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January 15, 2016

The Dangers of Parisian Theology

Orthodox Ecclesiastical Theology

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

When we speak of Parisian theology, we mean that theology which was formed from various Russian theologians that had opposed the reforms of Peter the Great, and which was expressed in the West by Russian slavophile immigrants. The Theological Institute of St. Sergius in Paris cultivated the basic concepts of this theology, because many Russian theologians fled there.

It is, of course, known that these Russian theologians had a sense of the Orthodox hesychastic tradition and, observing the humanistic principles of western civilization, entered into dialogue with the various philosophical and religious movements of the West and tried to help. That is, they sought to do what the Church Fathers of the fourth century did, namely to respond to the inquiries of westerners, and to solve, by means of Orthodox Revelation, the existential, philosophical, anthropological, social, and other such problems prevailing in the West.

Indeed, they offered much to satisfy the existential hunger of people in the West. However, while the Fathers of the fourth century had personal experience of Revelation, through the purification of their hearts, the illumination of their nous and theosis, which is why they were able to produce creative and original work, the Russian immigrants did not have such personal preconditions, which is why in many issues they could not meet authenticity, rather they significantly affected things, and in many places were affected by the criteria of the western tradition.

Therefore, the term "Parisian theology" means a contemplative and philosophical theology, which is removed from the basic preconditions of the theology of the Holy Fathers of the Church.

I believe that Saint Gregory Palamas can only be interpreted as an Athonite, with the criteria and preconditions that still exist in Mount Athos. Otherwise he is misunderstood, as we unfortunately see in the analyses done in our days about this great patristic figure and the teachings which he expressed.

An example on this subject is the issue regarding person/hypostasis. According to the teachings of Saint Gregory Palamas and all the Fathers of the Church, God is Three Persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and man as the image of God can be regarded as a person/hypostasis, with the necessary preconditions. The basic precondition is to realize that there is no similarity between created and uncreated nature. Uncreated nature has no beginning, no change and no end, while created nature has a beginning, does change and could have had an end, but God wanted man to not have an end, so man is immortal not according to nature but according to Grace. Only Christ as the incarnate Son of God is the bridge between created and uncreated nature, because He united the created and the uncreated, and acts as one Person "in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably." Christ in His incarnation assumed human nature, not the human person, as Nestorius held, since the hypostasis of human nature is the Word. After the union of the two natures in Christ, the properties of each nature are kept safe, that is the created and uncreated are maintained.

So-called Parisian theology, in an effort to exceed Greek theology, the theology of the Fathers, since the Russian immigrant theologians developed the strange idea that they had gone further than the theology of the Greco-Roman Church Fathers (according to Alexei Khomiakov), developed erroneous theories regarding the human person. They correlated the way in which exist the Persons of the Holy Trinity with ecclesiology, sociology, education, etc. That is, various theologians who are influenced by Parisian theology try to find a correspondence between the Triune God with the Church, with society and with education. For example, they claim that the Church is an image of the Holy Trinity, while the Church is in fact the Body of Christ. They even dare to put the doctrine of the Holy Trinity into marital and family relationships!

I would therefore like to present three phrases that show how Parisian theology tries to theologize, using reason and philosophy, in an effort to surpass both the terminology and way of theology of the Church Fathers.

1. They express the view that "hypostasis is a way of nature existing". This is reminiscent of a peculiar Sabellianism, because, as I have elsewhere analyzed, we can never say that hypostasis is a way of nature existing, rather the Orthodox teaching is that the hypostatic properties (ungenerated, generated, proceeds) are the way the divine hypostasis exists. The Holy Fathers use the term "cause" or "way of existence" to express that the Father is ungenerated, that the Son is generated and the Holy Spirit proceeds, since the way by which the Father exists is ungenerated, the way by which the Son exists is generated, and the way by which the Holy Spirit exists is by procession. A larger problem arises when this formula used by the Fathers to describe the relationships of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is applied to human variables. It is impossible for Trinitarian terminology to be fully transferred, without preconditions for the human variable, because the phrase "way of existence" of the Persons of the Holy Trinity can never have the same interpretation that applies to human relationships.

2. It is usually said by some exponents of Parisian theology that "the person hypostasizes essence". This expression is incomprehensible from the Orthodox perspective and shows a philosophical and intellectualistic way of approaching theological issues, which is what the heretics exactly did, who examined philosophically and analyzed the teachings of Revelation about God. For when we say that person hypostasizes essence, we mean that essence exists in and of itself, and the person exists in and of itself, so the person comes and hypostasizes essence, namely it receives it and gives it existence, life! This is logically incomprehensible, even more so from a theological point of view, because it means an essence or nature is without a hypostasis or person, or a hypostasis or person is without an essence or nature. When the patristic tradition speaks of hypostasis/person it means the essence with the personal properties. To say that the person hypostasizes essence means that we somehow put time between essence and person, and even that there is some beginning when essence is hypostasized. I will not analyze this further, because I fear and tremble that I will try to deal logically with these issues, in attempting to overthrow these modern views on the relationship and communion of the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

3. There is talk of the monarchy of the Father, that the Father is the source of the existence of the other Persons/Hypostases of the Holy Trinity. There is no doubt that this is Orthodox, since the Holy Fathers teach it, but a thoughtful analysis of this issue gives the impression that the monarchy of the Father was construed in accordance with the standards of feudalism.

The Orthodox conception of the monarchy of the Father is that the Father communicates His essence to the Son through generation, and to the Holy Spirit through procession, but this must be seen through two necessary preconditions. The first is that, although we talk about the Father being ungenerated, the Son generated and the Holy Spirit proceeding, at the same time, as Saint Gregory the Theologian aptly analyzes, we do not rationally know what ungenerated, generated and proceeding means. We accept Revelation without ruminating on it. The second precondition is that despite the different ways the Persons of the Holy Trinity exist, the Three Persons are equal in honor, equal in essence, equal in power, equal in glory. There is no superiority of one Person over another, one Person is not higher than another. This is because there is no time inserted between the Father and the Son. The union of the Triune God is associated with the paternity of the First Person, but also with the community and singularity of essence.

In Orthodox patristic theology it is clear that the mystery of the Holy Trinity is one thing, which we will never understand, and the doctrine of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which the Fathers expressed after having experienced Revelation, is another thing. As well, the relationship of the Persons of the Holy Trinity moves on one level, while the relationships of human hypostases/persons are on another level. There are no analogies between God and man, because then we end up in metaphysics, which the Fathers so opposed. Moreover there are patristic texts and synodical decisions, as we see for example in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, where metaphysics is condemned, since it claims that parallels and analogies exist between the uncreated and the created.

We must be very careful of the views that come from so-called Parisian theology, for the simple reason that it considers itself to have gone further than the theology of the Greco-Roman Fathers of the Church and is superior to the patristic tradition, since it views itself as a neo-patristic tradition. All these things are quite dangerous.

We owe great gratitude to Fr. John Romanides, who is a spokesman of the patristic teachings and connoisseur of all these movements that can be observed in the western world, for he has revealed to us many truths and clarified all these issues, orienting us towards the authentic Orthodox theological criteria of the Holy Fathers of the Church. As well, we owe great gratitude to Fr. George Metallinos, Professor at the University of Athens, who has enshrined this tradition historically and delivers it successfully. It is necessary that we interpret Saint Gregory Palamas as an Athonite and we incorporate Orthodox tradition within this context, which is still held there today, in order to avoid the danger of interpreting Saint Gregory Palamas ideologically and moralistically.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ὀρθόδοξη Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ Θεολογία", December 1998. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Read also the series: The Theological Crisis and Its Impact on Daily Ecclesiastical Life (1 of 6)