September 17, 2014

When Orthodox Theologians Theologize Like Protestants

Breaking the Unity of Theology

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

In our days there is much talk about so-called "post-patristic theology". Whatever definition anyone gives to this phenomenon, one thing is certain, that it is a "theology" that alters Orthodox ecclesiastical theology and associates it with so-called "scientific" theology, which in many ways deconstructs all the basic principles of the theology of the Church.

Many theologians, through the use of logic, reflection and biblical study methods developed in Protestant lands, try to interpret the prophetic, apostolic and patristic texts through different methods to that which has been given by Orthodox theology. Here I will briefly comment on one aspect of this interpretation.

Professor Savvas Agourides, who is well known to all modern theologians, and whom I had as a professor in the interpretation of the New Testament at the Theological School of Thessaloniki, speaks of "attempts within biblical scholarly circles towards the breaking of the continuity of the unity of the biblical message with Ecclesiastical Tradition."

What does this reality mean?

Protestant biblical scholars, whom some Orthodox biblical theologians admire and counterpoise with the Fathers of the Church, the latter of whom they do not consider scholars, support the view that there is a break in the teachings between the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers. Within this perspective they say that the Prophets of the Old Testament heard things about God, while the Apostles saw God. They distinguish between the Prophets prior to the Babylonian exile and the Prophets after the Babylonian exile. They write about protocanonical and deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament as well as about a First Isaiah, a Second Isaiah and a Third Isaiah. They distinguish between the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith. They also speak of the differences between the "schools" of Matthew the Evangelist, John the Evangelist and the Apostle Paul. They write about the alteration of the original ecclesiology of the Early Church by the Early Fathers, and many other things.

Students of our Theological Schools are taught these things by modern scholarly professors and then these theologians transfer them to the fullness of the Church unknowingly, either through religious education in schools, or through sermons, or in organized gatherings.

The teachings of the Church are in opposition to this mentality, because according to the theology of the Church there is no division or break between the theology of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, since they all had the same experience of God. The difference is that the Old Testament Prophets and the Righteous had an experience of the Pre-Incarnate Word while the Apostles in the New Testament and the Fathers had an experience of the Incarnate Word. Thus, there is the identity of experience, as we confess in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy: "As the Prophets have seen, as the Apostles taught, as the Church received, as the Teachers dogmatized...." Yet the saints throughout the ages expressed the revelatory experiences they had with the terms of their time. There is no other difference that exists.

"Post-patristic theologians", who delude themselves into thinking they are doing science, are transferring into the Orthodox world the problems of the Protestants, who, because they rejected Tradition and the Fathers of the Church, examine and interpret biblical texts with their logical opinions, investigating the letter while the spirit of the Scriptural and Patristic texts eludes them. The question arises: Why do post-patristic theologians consciously or unconsciously break away from Orthodox teachings as they have been expressed by the Fathers? Why do they undermine Orthodox teachings, as found in the liturgical texts and the worship tradition of the Church, for the sake of scientific theology? Why do they break the unity of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers?

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Διάσπαση τής ενότητας στήν Θεολογία", August 2012. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.