Thursday, April 10, 2008

What is "Orthodox Theology"?

From Eirenikon:

"What almost always passes for "Orthodox theology" among English-speaking Orthodox these days is actually just a branch of the larger Orthodox picture. Indeed, it tends sometimes to be rather sectarian.

The Orthodox Church is an ancient castle, as it were, of which only two or three rooms have been much in use since about 1920. These two or three rooms were furnished by the Russian émigrés in Paris between the two World Wars. This furniture is heavily neo-Palamite and anti-Scholastic. It relies heavily on the Cappadocians, Maximus, and Gregory Palamas (who are good folks, or course). Anything that does not fit comfortably into that model is dismissed as "Western" and even non-Orthodox.

Consequently, one will look in vain in that theology for any significant contribution from the Alexandrians, chiefly Cyril, and that major Antiochian, Chrysostom. When these are quoted, it is usually some incidental point on which they can afford to be quoted.

Now I submit that any "Orthodox" theology that has so little use for the two major figures from Antioch and Alexandria is giving something less than the whole picture.

Likewise, this popular neo-Palamite brand of Orthodoxy, though it quotes Damascene when it is convenient, never really engages Damascene’s manifestly "Scholastic" approach to theology.
Much less does it have any use for the other early Scholastic theologians, such as Theodore the Studite and Euthymus Zygabenus. There is no recognition that Scholasticism was born in the East, not the West, and that only the rise of the Turk kept it from flourishing in the East.
There is also no explicit recognition that the defining pattern of Orthodox Christology was formulated in the West before Chalcedon. Pope Leo’s distinctions are already very clear in Augustine decades before Chalcedon. Yet, Orthodox treatises on the history of Christology regularly ignore Augustine.

Augustine tends to be classified as a "Scholastic," which he most certainly was not.
But Western and Scholastic are bad words with these folks.

In fact, however, Augustine and the Scholastics represent only other rooms in the larger castle.
For this reason I urge you, as you can, to read in the Orthodox sources that tend to get skipped in what currently passes for "Orthodoxy." For my part, I believe the Russian émigré theology from Paris, which seems profoundly reactionary and anti-Western, is an inadequate instrument for the evangelization of this country and the world. I say this while gladly recognizing my own debt to Russian émigré theology."

– Father Patrick Henry Reardon (All Saints’ Orthodox Church, Chicago), an excerpt from an e-mail to an inquirer that’s been making the rounds in the Orthodox and Catholic blogospheres


Anonymous said...

I am a Catholic so I am not the best one to comment on Orthodox theology, but he makes alot of sense.

Mark Krause said...

Yeah, I've read this little tidbit before and I don't know what in the world he means by scholastic here. How exactly is St. John of Damascus a Scholastic?

The problem with the Scholastics is not that they thought systematically and made careful distinctions. This is feature of any good thinker. The problem with Scholastics is that they do theology dialectically, which means their theological method is undergirded by the Plotinian conflation between distinction and opposition which is seen most evidently in the manifestly heretical definitional view of simplicity they hold to.

I don't know what he means when he says that Neo-Palamites don't pay attention to St. John Chrysostom. Maybe he's noticing that the areas of dogmatic theology that Neo-Palamites are usually most concerned with aren't focused on as much by St. John, but why is this a problem? It's not as if St. John is somehow really Augustinian and everyone just ignores him because of it. Right?

As far as his point about St. Cyril: I don't know what he's talking about. I don't really think that Cyril occupies a substantially different room than St. Maximus. St. Cyril definately believes explicitly in a distinction been God's essence and energies. Maybe I'm just not knowledgeable about Patristics or the contemporary scene of Orthodox Theology to know what he's referring to though.

His point may be well taken about Pope St. Leo.

As far as St. Augustine though, there are important things about St. Augustine that just aren't Orthodox. Right? Denying the reality of distinctions in God, defining persons as relations, conflating person and nature (see his doctrine of original guilt)...
These seem like pretty bad things. Now, it would be wrong to ignore everything he has to say because of these major flaws in his theological system, but it's not wrong to attack and disagree with these points.

I confess I don't know much about St. Augustine's Christology. Knowing what I do about his modalist Trinitarian theology and his tendency to confuse person and nature I have my doubts about it, but I know he certainly deserves a fair read.

Do you know where I can find St. Augustine's thought on Christology Mr. Llizo? I'm taking a seminar on the Incarnation next semester so I'm trying to get some more Christology in my summer reading. Thanks.

Benedictus said...

"Yeah, I've read this little tidbit before and I don't know what in the world he means by scholastic here. How exactly is St. John of Damascus a Scholastic?"

Yes, there is a bit of a "fuzziness" of definition here, especially since Scholasticism is a specific method. You are right about what the medieval scholastic method to a degree, but it seems that whatever "Plotinian" system is evident here, it is filtered (at least in Aquinas) through Ps.-Dionysius. But yes, the fact that the Scholastics would dialecticize (is that a word?) theology would doom the enterprise to stale repetition and rote formulae-a reductionism of the theology itself to a dialectical exercise, in a word. By the 14th and 15th century, much of the dynamism it exhibited in the 12th-13th centuries had become quite wooden and stale, prompting this quip by Erasmus of Rotterdam against the University of Paris: "A place of stale eggs and even more stale theology!" Whatever good prospects it held out in its earlier stages, I think this attempt to make theoology into a dialectic exercize would doom it to failure (and I speak as someone who appreciates much of Thomas Aquinas' work). Perhaps the wisest thing St. Thomas said was a statement he made after an intense experience of mystical contemplation of God: "All I have written is straw."

I think there has been a growing awareness among some Catholic scholars like Hans Urs von Balthazar that scholasticism is not enough, and indeed, cannot be enough.

Concerning St. Cyril, I think Fr. Patrick is addressing a certain strain of Russian emigre theology that has tended to place Palamas as the central figure of Orthodox mystical theology, indeed its very "touchstone". Of course, I know why this happened. Fr. Martin Jugie, quite symathetic of the eastern Church but HIGHLY CRITICAL of St. Gregory Palamas, wrote a series of articles on St. Gregory in the Dictionaire de theologie Catholique, in effect making him the Orthodox theological center of all that went "wrong" with the eastern Church. Lossky, Florovsky, et al, rose to our blessed father's defense, and in effect had to treat him as a central figure in Orthodox theology, since that is where the atack on Orthodox tradition was being levelled. Palamas had once again become a very crucial battleground for Orthodox theology.

I think that while Fr. Patrick may exaggerate the manner in which St. John Chrysostom and St. Cyril are ignored among "Neo-Palamite" theologians, I think we can see in St. Gregory Palamas' doctrine of theosis an appropriation of certain key ideas in Cyril's Christology, as well as Maximus the Confessor's notion of "communication of idioms." In other words, St. Gregory brings out the full possibilities, and imlications, of Sts. Maximus' and Cyril's respective Christologies.

Some sources to consider for St. Augustine's Christology : B.E. Daley, "A Humble Mediator: The Distinctive Elements in St. Augustine's Christology," Word and Spirit 9 (1987): 100-117

You might also check out Daley's article "Christology" in Augustine Through the Ages (Fitzgerald, ed.) Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999

Let me also add that Lossky and Florovsky, premier "Neo-Palamite" theologians, don't strike me as particularly "anti-western," nor are they particularly anti-Augustine. Florovsky, especially, has always been quite measured in his critiques of western theology, not given over to too many generalizations.

I must also add that the inclusion of this article is meant to do exactly what is going on here: discussion and friendly debate. Fr. Patrick's remarks are not necessarily my own, but are meant to generate discussion, Thanks for posting!!!!

Mark Krause said...

Mr. Llizo,

Christos Voskrese! (from St. Petersberg) Thanks for the response. I'll try to get ahold of those sources so I can have some grasp of St. Augustine's Christology.

Yeah, I suppose I still don't know exactly what to make out of Fr. Reardon's statement because I'm not as familiar with the whole 20th cent. Russian emigre group of theologians (at least directly). Also, as you noted, some of his terminology is pretty fuzzy.

Also, I've thought for some time now that I'd really love to hear/read some of your thoughts on St. Augustine's place in Orthodoxy (like if you ever have time when the dissertation is done or whenever). This just seems like something you've probably done a lot of thinking on and I'm really interested in your perspective.

Anyways, happy dissertation writing. I hope all is well.