March 2, 2015

The Danger of "Mutant" Theology

The Sunday of Orthodoxy invites us to realize the danger that threatens us. It is the danger of a "mutant" theology! It is known that our epoch is characterized by theological gatherings, theological dialogues, inter-Christian conferences, etc. Often after such conferences and dialogues, communiqués are issued or statements made where novel terms are used, unknown in the theology of the Holy Fathers of the Church; terms of "polite diplomacy", terms trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, and they are mostly totally inappropriate in expressing theological truths. Communiqués establish these terms that are clearly outside of theology, such as the "branch theory", "baptismal theology", "post-patristic theology", "neo-patristic theology", "contextual theology", "eucharistic theology", etc. But these are terms that are products of human reason, which are based purely on secular and intellectualist thought. They clearly imply a "mutant" theology with perverted contents. That is, they reiterate the tactics used by the Papal theologians at the pseudo-Synod of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439).

At that pseudo-Synod the Papal theologian John Protonotarios, the Spaniard, otherwise known as Juan de Torquemada, uncle to the terrible Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada, during one of the synodal assemblies, abused the logic of Aristotle to such an extent, that one Orthodox Bishop from Iberia was overheard by Silvester Syropoulos, an eyewitness of this historic Synod, muttering: "Aristotle, Aristotle, why all this Aristotle when they should be quoting St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Chrysostom, but not Aristotle." Syropoulos says that he writes this to show how the Latins were condemned for their scholastic mentality, which was foreign to the authentic ecclesiastical spirit, not only by the Orthodox who attended the Synod, but also by those "who spoke other languages" who were present at the discussions.1

The same often happens today in contemporary theological dialogues. With this purely rationalist terminology Orthodox theologians begin to be swayed. This is why they agree with the heterodox on the premise of foreign terms towards the Orthodox spirit and dogma.

At last, however, we Orthodox must feel the need to theologize like the authentic Orthodox theologians theologized, those "trumpets of the initiates of the Spirit", "who melodized within the Church body (Orthodox) theology harmonioualy".2 This is because our God-bearing Fathers were "exact guardians of the apostolic tradition".3

When the Church through the Holy Synods began formulating terms and doctrinal pronouncements with the phrase "Following the Holy Fathers...", they did not refer to some abstract tradition, nor vague persons lost in the haze of legend. They referred to individuals who gave witness with their words, and some witnessed with their lives, to the authenticity of the preaching of the Apostles. The great Russian Orthodox theologian Fr. George Florovsky wrote: "The Church is indeed 'Apostolic'. But the Church is also 'Patristic'. And only by being 'Patristic' is the Church continuously 'Apostolic'. The Fathers testify to the Apostolicity of the tradition."4

Today, unfortunately, not only are the doctrines of the Fathers forgotten, but we study and formulate the teachings of the Church in a purely secular way. We forgot the advice of Saint John of Sinai, who taught: "Let us try to learn about the divine through sweat rather than through dry and abstract words."5 The blessed Fathers died to the world, lived a life of crucifixion, they "emptied" themselves, having been baptized "in the Holy Spirit and fire", and hence learned the truth concealed in divine words. Their theology reflects their rich inner experience. According to Saint Gregory Palamas, they theologize through suffering, not intellect.6 The Fathers thought and acted as men of the Church, "on behalf and in the name of the Church. They were spokesmen for the Church, expositors of her faith, keepers of her Tradition, witnesses of truth and faith."7 Basil the Great writes that to not follow the Fathers and not view their words as more valid that one's own opinions, is a reprehensible act and full of presumption.8

For the Fathers did not think like modern theologians, who chair and preside over theological dialogues and display themselves as sages, while expressing personal opinions. "We name those who express the experience and consciousness of the Church, 'Fathers and Teachers of the Church'; because from them we hear not only their own personal professions, but also the witness of the Church. It is out of Catholic fullness that they speak. In their words we feel the breath of the Spirit."9

Thus the responsibility of Orthodox theologians who participate in theological dialogues is enormous before God and men.

A Papal theologian wrote quite correctly: "For the West theology is a science, for the East it is experience. The Westerner, when he theologizes, ponders, while the Easterner contemplates and prays.... Westerners are not attached to the Fathers as much as Easterners. If the Bible was compiled by Westerners, despite its inspiration, there would neither exist nor would there be expressed the concept of 'the God of our Fathers'. It is with ease that new theological terms are formulated for practical reasons, almost indifferent to whether or not they correspond to the tradition of the Fathers." And with greater emphasis the Papal theologian more precisely says: "Here is recorded a new danger: that the Eastern theologians will not be misled into accepting novel terms, unless it is respectively established in Tradition."10


1. See further in ΝΙΚ. Π. ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΑΔΗ, Ὁ ἅγιος Μᾶρκος ὁ Εὐγενικὸς καὶ ἡ ἕνωσις τῶν Ἐκκλησιῶν, ἐκδ. «Ὁ Σωτήρ», Ἀθῆναι 20147, p. 115.

2. Pentecostarion, Sunday of the 318 Holy Fathers, Glory...Processional Hymn.

3. Ibid.

4. George Florovsky, Τὸ Σῶμα τοῦ ζῶντος Χριστοῦ. Μία Ὀρθόδοξος Ἑρμηνεία τῆς Ἐκκλησίας, μτφρ. Ἰ. Κ. Παπαδοπούλου, ἐκδ. Πατρ. Ἱδρύμ. Πατερικῶν Μελετῶν, Θεσσαλονίκη 1972, p. 107-108.

5. Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26.

6. Gregory Palamas, Ὑπὲρ τῶν ἱερῶς ἡσυχαζόν­των, τῶν ὑστέρων ὁ τρίτος, "Περὶ φωτὸς ἱεροῦ" 26, Συγγράμματα, τόμ. Α΄, p. 561 (2-3).

7. George Florovsky, "Holy Scripture, Church, Tradition".

8. Basil the Great, PG 32, 392C-393A.

9. George Florovsky, "The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revelation." From The Christian East Journal. Vol. XIII No. 2 (pages 49–64) 1932.

10. ΓΕΩΡΓΙΟΥ ΣΑΡΓΟΛΟΓΟΥ, «Γλῶσσα ἄρ­ρη­τη. Ἡ “Δήλωσις τοῦ Μονάχου”» Α΄, ἐφημερίδα Κα­θολικὴ 21.2.1984.

Source: From the magazine Ο ΣΩΤΗΡ. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.