June 24, 2014

The Political Vision of Athanasios Parios and His Disputes With Koraes

Athanasios was indeed a restless spirit. This made him use a thematology that did not remain within a narrow theological framework, but was broader socially and politically. He was simultaneously a polymath and polyglot, that resulted in him realizing the deep upheavals brought about by the Enlightenment in Europe. Thus he began with fairly conservative language to determine the polar events and constructs in Europe and attacked their heretical arbitrariness, as he called it. So he wrote a book (Patristic Teaching) which opposed the liberal proposals of the Enlightenment revolution. This book was published by the Patriarchate and seemed aimed at expressing the political considerations and requirements of the Gate, and for this reason may not fully reflect the views of the author. This book is the cause for attacks against the Church by the Enlighteners, who accused them of being Turkophiles with a slave mentality, even though it was obvious that it reflected the views of the vast majority of Phanariotes, who lived with the constant fear that a local revolt, even if successful, would also expose the rest of the Greeks to the vengeful fury of the Turks. This was a fear not at all unfounded, since it was based on events that preceded this time (e.g. Orlov Revolt) and continued until 1922.

Koraes personally responded to this book with his Brotherly Teaching, in which he addresses Athanasios with sharp personal characterizations, as well as his general ideas, and he wants to convince that these ideas did not reflect those of all the Greek people. Here begins to emerge the differences of two entire worlds. The Enlighteners and Koraes reflected European ideas which required a pure national state, in accordance with the vision of the Humanists, based upon ancient Greek geographical boundaries, while Athanasios and the more conservatives schemed a traditional multinational state. The objective of this scheme was to be able to rescue the small portions of Greeks who were dispersed across the boundaries of the Ottoman state and in a narrow geographic area of Greece that left them exposed to the appetites of the Ottomans that would result in the disappearance of their cultural identity. So in the eyes of Athanasios the establishment of the national state meant the instant destruction of Romiosini. Additionally, in his mind this would cause something else. The organization of the state under an Enlightenment worldview meant the secularization of public life, the application of natural law and regulated utilitarianism, thus threatening the foundations which were maintained until his time of a common Greek consciousness even in the harshest conditions.

Christos Yannaras notes in Orthodoxy and the West that this scheme did not simply consist of Turkophilia, nor of willful slavery, but a completely different worldview than the narrow nationalist edifice of the Enlightenment. It was a universal system which had begun to bear fruit, as the Greeks had already staffed most key personnel of the Ottoman state, while trade and shipping had basically gone to Greek hands. Even the most conservative classes of Phanariotes believed in an internal seizure, an idea that increasingly gained ground in the era of Athanasios. The eventual conflict between Koraes and Athanasios was not merely a collision between progressives and conservatives, but the juxtaposition of two different political visions that each correspond to a different type of Hellenism/Romiosini. A Hellenism of the Nation or an ethnophyletistic Hellenism, a Hellenism that would derive its identity directly from ancient Greece, overstepping ten centuries of Byzantium (Romiosini).

As Nicholas Arkas writes in his relevant article in the Religious and Ethical Encyclopedia, the contrast of Athanasios to the Enlightenment was not the result of unilateralism, nor of anti-epistemological views:

"Athanasios was not unilateral. He was not inspired by narrow fanatical anti-epistemological views. He loved wisdom. Till the end of his life he pursued knowledge and scholarship together. He says in his book Response: 'We cannot deny the natural desire for learning, and the axiomatic voice is that of Aristotle who says that all men desire knowledge.' It is well known of him that the lessons of his schools consisted of every form of wisdom of that time which he offered his students. As director of the School in Chios and in Europe, every year he sent students who excelled to study abroad. This is because he admitted that 'many of those who have wisdom from the outside have benefitted the Church of Christ'. The observation that it belongs to the disposition of those who are for the preservation of misconceived 'tradition' to fight against all progress and evolution in no way stands true.... He pursued, in a way that remained unchanged until the end of his life, with the same vitality and fervor, in offering those being educated the wheat of pure knowledge."

So when Athanasios insisted that "wisdom from the outside...is of its own nature neither evil nor good...but it becomes good or evil by the way it is used by those who possess it", he believed it wholeheartedly. We also know his position that "although he scathed in an intense way the novel philosophical concepts of the Enlightenment, he did not hesitate to translate some selected works of the European Enlighteners and used them as his textbooks" (Dionysios Valais, Aspects of the Spiritual Movement in the Enslaved and the Greek Diaspora in the Period of the 18th to 19th Century, Thessaloniki 2005, pp. 18.).

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.