December 19, 2015

The Theological Crisis and Its Impact on Daily Ecclesiastical Life (2 of 6)

Fr. George Florovsky

2. The Alteration of Theology

The issue of the alteration of theology is great and one can explore it from different angles. I would prefer to start with how we see this alteration in the second millennium of ecclesiastical life, in the relationship between lex credendi and lex orandi. In the first millennium, after many struggles, there was basically a balanced relationship between dogmatic theology and the prayers of the Euchologion.

Andrew Sopko has argued that in ancient tradition there was a close relationship between doctrine and prayer, as shown in the Proceedings of the Ecumenical Synods, Holy Scripture, the Mysteries and worship. Over the years a dichotomy was created between these two factors. This is shown clearly in that the language of worship, with its terminology, its purpose and its aim has remained steady, but from time to time the dogmatic terminology of some theologians varies. This is shown in Orthodox doctrinal manuals that have been affected by other traditions, particularly scholastic, while worship was the same. An example of this are the western influences on the theological work of Eugenios Voulgaris (George Panagopoulos).

Thus, students learn another doctrine in Theological Schools, which is different from the theology of our worship. One can find this in the situation Saint Paisius Velichkovsky found himself in, who studied at the Ecclesiastical School of Kiev, which resulted in him leaving the School to follow the path of monasticism, and in turn encountering Hesychasm in Mount Athos, which is a tradition he conveyed to Moldavia, thus changing the anti-Orthodox climate which prevailed at that time in Russia and the surrounding areas.

To be more specific and to show the various theological movements that developed during the second millennium, to make apparent the difference between lex credendi and lex orandi, I would like to make a brief overview of scholastic, biblical and Russian theology.

In the first millennium many struggles took place in the recording of revealed tradition in the terminology of their time, without losing this tradition. Thus, Orthodox tradition was enshrined by the Fathers of the Church and other traditions that exist today became differentiated, namely the Non-Chalcedonians (Monophysites-Nestorians) and the Monothelites. The difference between these traditions is that the patristic tradition was based on the experiences of the Prophets and Fathers, which they "invested" with modern terminology, while the theology of the other groups was based on philosophy.

The biggest alteration, however, took place in the western world, from the end of the first millennium and continued into the second millennium. A big theological movement created in the West that changed the patristic tradition of the Ecumenical Synods is scholasticism. This theological movement can be divided into pre-scholasticism that began in the 9th century, with the scholasticism that developed between the 11th and 13th centuries in the West.

The term "scholastic theology" derives from the word school, where students studied, which is why what we call today a "university student" back then was called a "scholastic", and the method they used was scholastic which is based on logic. The theology of these Schools were based on the processing of logical concepts, so that, while the Fathers were based on experience and evidential reasoning, the scholastic theologians based God on their logic and dialectical reasoning.

The biggest scholastic theologians were Anselm of Canterbury, Abelard, Hugh of St. Victor, Richard of St. Victor, Bonaventure, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, who is the pinnacle of scholastic theology, and then follow the post-scholastic theologians with John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham.

The important thing with the scholastic theologians is that some of them were based on the philosophy of Aristotle, others on the philosophy of Plato and the Neoplatonists, and others mixed these two philosophical traditions. The scholastic theologians wrote doctrinal manuals based on this new method of theologizing, which differed from patristic theology. This is why they considered scholastic theology superior to patristic theology.

A backlash against scholastic theology came from the Reformers/Protestants, who could not accept such a large logic-dominated system, and influenced by the liberal early years of the 16th century with the Renaissance, they rejected scholastic theology and created so-called biblical theology.

The late Professor of New Testament at the University of Athens, Markos Siotis, analyzed entirely this movement of biblical theology, that began to develop in the middle of the 17th century in the effort of biblical theologians to establish Christian teachings on Holy Scripture, alienated from Dogmatics, as it was known by the scholastic theologians. Thus, they were supported on the interpretation of the Bible, as they said, estranged from the Fathers and the scholastics, and they developed biblical theology as a science.

I will mention what the late Professor Savvas Agourides, who is considered an important biblical theologian in Greece, said. He wrote that Protestant theologians argue that "there is no theological unity, and then through the variety of literary forms where they describe the history of the religion of the Old Testament (historical, prophetic, didactic, etc. texts), there is none as a whole, nor even in its various forms. And in the books of the New Testament - not only the forms, but also the partial writings - the same critical School can't figure out how there is a correspondence between the various teachings of the books with the corresponding elements that developed in later Ecclesiastical Tradition."

Generally, within the science of biblical criticism there is a dichotomy between the Prophets and Apostles, as well as between the writings of the Old and New Testaments, because each of them were affected by their own gifts, their own perceptions of the people of their time and their religious environment. That is, biblical science is based mainly on historical research of the texts, looking at the literary and homiletic forms used by each author, comparing them with extra-biblical standards of thought and faith, in order to establish a degree of interaction between them. This is why they say there is a theology of John the Evangelist, a theology of the Apostle Paul, etc.

Later, especially in the 18th-19th centuries in Russia, there developed another theology known as Russian theology. The important thing is that Russian theology combined patristic and scholastic theology, because theologians who belonged to this movement wanted to get rid of the Greek philosophy of the Fathers and the legalism of the western Romans, generally seeking to live Christianity as love and freedom, unhindred by canons, rules, rubrics and regulations.

A basic expositor and leader of this movement was Alexei Khomiakov. He formulated the theory that there was in the history of mankind two cultural movements, namely "Iranian" which manifested in Iran and the surrounding areas and stands for the principle of freedom, and "Kushite" which developed in Egypt, Babylon, southern India and China, and it is characterized by analysis, logic and built structures. The central point of this theory is that the Kushites influenced the Greeks and Romans who developed around this edifice a form of Christianity with doctrines, rules and temples, whilst the Russians express the Iranian by living with love and freedom in community. So he developed the theory, and this is important, that scholastic theology surpassed patristic theology, and Russian theology surpassed both previous theologies.

The greatest 20th-century Russian theologian, Fr. George Florovsky, reacted against this dangerous theory, and Russians fought against him throughout his life for proclaiming a "return to the Fathers." He also spoke about a "neo-patristic synthesis", in order to take into consideration the newer Fathers, such as Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Saint Gregory Palamas and the Philokalic Fathers. In other words, this great theologian fought against the theory that patristic theology ended in the 8th century and claimed that patristic theology continues today with new Fathers, and so we cannot claim scholastic theology overran patristic theology, and that Russian theology has overrun both theologies.

The fact is that these four movements continue to dominate, namely patristic theology, scholastic and neo-scholastic theology, biblical theology and Russian theology. This creates confusion and a natural theological crisis.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.