September 26, 2014

The Theology We Need Today

Technologizing Instead of Theologizing

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"The dogmas of the Fathers have been entirely disregarded, the apostolic traditions withered, the inventions of younger people are observed in the churches; people are therefore technologizing* when they should be theologizing; the wisdom of the world seems to be pushing aside the boasting in the Cross. Pastors are sent away, and in their place are inserted harsh wolves, who disperse Christ's flock."

(Basil the Great, Epistle 90, "To the Most Holy Brothers and Bishops in the West")

When conversing with a scholar monk of Mount Athos some time ago, we discussed, among other things, the crisis in theology in our land, on account of the influence on it by Western scholastic theology as well as by Russian theology. Without denying this truth, the monk made a minor correction to my statement, saying that we should not be speaking of a “crisis in theology”, but rather of a “crisis in theologians”. Of course, I had no intention of disagreeing with him, as this was essentially what I meant.

Indeed, whenever we speak of Orthodox Theology, we are implying the faith of the Church in its authentic expression, the way that the holy Apostles and Fathers had presented it, following a personal revelation that each of them had experienced. This theology is not undergoing any crisis whatsoever. But, when there are certain “theologians” who speculate on matters of the faith and mix the theology of the theologians who were not in error with the contemplations of philosophers and philosophizers, then a problem most certainly exists, and a crisis indeed becomes evident. Hence, the crisis belongs to the theologians.

I have noticed that in our land (and especially amongst certain academic teachers) there prevails an impression that theology has to do with bibliographies, footnotes and references. This approach may of course meet the standards of scholarly academic requirements, but it does not mean it is theology. This difference must be pointed out. Theology is one thing, and the scientific and scholarly analysis of theology by theologians is another thing altogether.

One can observe this in other sciences. For example, a painter or a sculptor or a poet will create an original and authentic piece of work and will open new horizons, carve out a new course and a perspective that may even define a specific era. Later on, various researchers will come along, who will attempt to investigate that specific work of art and the artist, and will try to see what the background and the starting point of the work was; they will also try to analyze the facts and the styles that governed that era, etc. Of course, research work is also essential; however, it cannot be compared to the work which is both original and authentic. For example, the iconography of Theophanes the Cretan or Michael Panselinos is one thing, whereas the scientific analysis on them is an entirely different matter. Similarly, the poet Elytis is one thing, and the commentator who analyzes Elytis’ work is another thing altogether. Elytis was the one awarded the Nobel Prize, not his analyst. There is a vast difference between the two.

* * *

The Church has bestowed the title of “theologian” to three major personalities only: Saint John the Theologian, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint Symeon the New Theologian. A fourth one was later added to them: Saint Gregory Palamas. In the works of these four personages, as also in the works of other holy Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor), there is an abundance of rich, living and essential theology, without any references and footnotes whatsoever.

When I was a student, I had participated for a while in a scientific team that was involved in preparing a critical edition pertaining to the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas. My job was to trace the texts by Saint Gregory the Theologian that were used by Saint Gregory Palamas, in order to insert them in the critical edition. There is no way that I can ever embrace the view that because Saint Gregory Palamas did not refer to any contemporary scholars of his time (or even to many Fathers of the Church) and that whenever he did, he would not designate the reference to their specific treatise, that this automatically renders him inferior to certain important academic teachers, who have learned to work strictly with bibliographies, with logical documentation and scholastic analysis.

* * *

In our day, we are in need of a theology that will provide answers to the many existential problems that preoccupy modern man - such as pain, death, guilt, the meaning of life, as well as to the tremendous social problems that abound - through revelatory experience. We are in need of a theology of “tenderness”, of immediacy; one that will fall like a gentle rain on the souls of mankind and shed its healing balm and consolation, the way that the writings of Saint Silouan the Athonite do. We are in need of a theology that is “poetic”, without being romantic and sentimental; a theology that is “intuitive”, without being hard and inquiring; a theology that is "authentic" and does not need any footnotes in order to be formulated and be expressed, as a contemporary thinker had once said.

And of course, any theology that depends solely and exclusively on footnotes, references and bibliographies must be denounced, because it misleads people and serves only the interests of those who express it. An academic theology such as this must be denounced, when it overextends itself, beyond its sphere and the purpose that it serves; when it is projected as a model of theology by marginalizing the original and authentic theology of the God-seers (those who see God).

Basil the Great, when referring to instances of “philosophizing” theologians of his time, which is somewhat similar to the academic theologians of our own time, would say that they are "technologizing when they should be theologizing".

It is a shame when authentic theology is related to scholastic methodology; in other words, when theology is linked to technology, in this sense. People nowadays are not in need of a method for studying, but of true life.

* The word "technologizing" here is an ancient Greek word where the root "techno" refers to art or skill, thus referring to those who use the art or skill of logic or words. [trans.]

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΤΕΧΝΟΛΟΓΟΥΣΙ ΚΑΙ ΟΥ ΘΕΟΛΟΓΟΥΣΙ", September 1997. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.