June 4, 2011

Is There A "Post-Patristic" Theology?

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

The theology of the Orthodox Church is the prophetic, apostolic and patristic theology, and it therefore cannot be given other terms, such as postprophetic, postapostolic and postpatristic, and of course the term postorthodox. Usually other secular trends receive such terminology, such as in the difference between the modern and postmodern age.

The Fathers of the Church are the successors of the Apostles in theology and activity, and they share the same revelatory experience. Of course, the Fathers of the Church, in order to preserve their revelatory experience from the distortions of heretics and to guide Christians, used the terminology of their time to express the same tradition they had, without distorting it. Thus the dogmatic terminology was established by the Ecumenical Synods and became a part of the tradition, so that no "new Father" can overlook it nor circumvent it. For this reason we cannot speak of a postpatristic theology. It is a different issue when we deal with contemporary trends in Orthodox theology, which cannot be called "postpatristic" and is not about changes in doctrines.

The so-called postpatristic theology is associated with the theories of the Russian Alexis Khomiakov (1804-1860), who in his time played a significant role in Russian theological literature. We do not have adequate space to develop his views, but only to note that according to Khomiakov, the Fathers of the first millennium spoke for their time, and have value, but Scholastic theology (9th-13th century) exceeded Patristic theology, and the subsequent Russian theology surpassed the previous two (Patristic and Scholastic). Khomiakov's mistake is that Orthodoxy is closely linked to culture. But Orthodox theology produces culture, it is not culture.

However, the theory of Alexis Khomiakov affected to varying degrees theologians of the Russian diaspora in Paris, which is why now there is talk of a "postpatristic" theology. The Russian philosopher Kireyevsky, a friend of Khomiakov, said: "It is impossible to renew the philosophy of the Fathers in the form it had in their time. It answered the questions of the time and culture in which it developed." Father John Romanides writes that: "Khomiakov agrees with the observation of his friend on the need to develop a Russo-Christian philosophy, which responds to the social and religious responses of contemporary society."

Father George Florovsky, having in mind this theology, spoke of a "return to the Fathers", meaning "return to patristic sources and patristic foundations", and within this perspective spoke of the so-called Greek categories of thought which can not be overturned. He wrote: "The distancing from Christian Hellenism is not progress at all, but retrogression, a return to the impasse and embarrassment of the other Hellenism, that which had not transformed and from which there was no way out except through patristic fulfillment." If we do not see the views of Fr. George Florovsky through this perspective, that he does not agree with the views of the Russian émigré, then we do him an injustice.

This is recognized by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, which is why at the greeting of the famous conference at the Theological Academy of Volos, since he had reported that the theology of the Church cannot ignore modern culture, writes: "The future depends on an authentic 'patristic' theology, beyond the neopatristic and postpatristic, but towards an ecclesiastical theology, which is enlivened by the intensity between the 'now' and 'not yet' of the Kingdom of God."

Orthodox theology is ecclesiastical, that is, it is the voice of the Church, and the Fathers spoke and speak this language. Which is why there can be no term "neopatristic" or "postpatristic" theology, since Orthodox theology is prophetic, apostolic and patristic, and certainly ecclesiastical.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

Read also: Neopatristic, Postpatristic and Contextual "Theology"