April 15, 2013

Doing Theology While Subject to the Passions

By Fr. Vasilios Kalliakmanis

A.) Many theologians, as well as clergy and bishops, produce and publish various texts nowadays. However some, not knowing the weight of what they say, follow the secular notions of competitive journalism. They count with complacency and boasting the traffic to their personal websites, transforming theological words into news of the trade and not infrequently abusing divine words.

B.) Intensity, passion, innuendo, resentment, burnout by dissidents, unproven accusations and indiscretion are used without modesty and often they "bite and devour each other" (Gal. 5:15). Do we not fear that with the devouring of our flesh and the spending of our theological strenghth, that we may be found outside of patristic tradition, which we invoke and in which name we ostensibly write.

C.) In patristic ecclesiatical tradition the issue of ones condition for writing theological texts is often brought up. Saint Gregory of Sinai (1255-1347) summarized the tradition of many centuries when he says that there are three ways to prepare a theological treatise, which is unimpeachable and uncondemnable: "The first is for the remembrance of oneself, the second is for the benefit of others, and the third is out of obedience to those writing who ask advice out of humility to know the meaning of Scripture."

D.) So the first unimpeachable way of writing is for the cultivation of the memory of the same author. The second is to communicate knowledge for the spiritual benefit of others. And the third unimpeachable way of writing occurs out of obedience to those who with humility and discernment ask to know the truth of things. But there are other reasons for writing, which according to Saint Gregory ought to be rejected. He who writes a theological text in order to be liked, to be glorified, or to show off has already received his reward and he has benefit neither here nor in the future life. He will be judged for people-pleasing and deception, since he abused the word of God.

E.) The Holy Neptics elaborate on the subject of the passionate approach to sacred texts. Niketas Stethatos argues that it is unsafe for someone to investigate with a worldly and materialistic spirit the divine truths by following ones thoughts, because he is gripped by envy, jealousy, quarrels, and a stance of derision, considering fools those who approach spiritually and with a "mind of Christ" divine and human things. Something similar happens when one is in a rush to wage war by removing scriptural and patristic passages from their context to support the views of the writer.

F.) All of the above are connected with the writing of The Ladder by St. John of Sinai, who the Church honors today. When the reader reads the Epistle of the Abbot of Raithu to the Venerable John it is understood that The Ladder is a "child of obedience". The Abbot writes to the Venerable John: "We supplicate you... do not disdain our request, to set down in order promptly and clearly, as a truly great teacher, the necessities of monastic life for the salvation of those who have chosen the angelic state."

G.) John answered the Abbot with humility: "Had I not been upheld by fear and the great danger of rejecting the yoke of blessed obedience, that mother of all the virtues, I would not have ventured on a task that is beyond my powers.... I am not doing this with the idea of bringing you any profit... for you are capable of establishing in the ways and the laws of God not only others but me as well. No, I address this work to the God-called community of monks... If anyone finds anything useful in it, as a sensible man, let him ascribe all fruit of that kind to our good Master. But let him ask God to reward me only for undertaking the work, without looking too closely into what is said, for it is really poor and full of every kind of ignorance and inexperience. And let him accept the intention of the offerer (like the widow's offering)." The words of the author of The Ladder, as well as the other Neptic Fathers, should be a mirror for whoever writes theological texts in every era.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos