Orthodox Theology and Western Theology

Antiochian Archdiocese 2016 Clergy Symposium - Theology, Pastoral Care, and Psychology

Held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA, Metropolitan Joseph invited as his speaker His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios (also Ierotheos). He serves the Metropolis of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios in the Church of Greece. The theme of his three lectures was Theology, Pastoral Care, and Psychology. The interpreter is Anastasios Filippides, Economist (B.A. Yale University, M.A. Georgetown University). Secondary interpreter is Dr. Christopher Veniamin – Professor of Patristics St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan, PA, also Founder and President of Mount Thabor Publishing.

July 2016

Orthodox Theology and Western Theology

Metropolitan Hierotheos

July 19, 2016 Length: 54:54





His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios, interpreted by Mr. Anastasios Filippides: I am grateful to the Archbishop, who invited me and who allowed me to be in touch with you. I am greatly honored to be among you and to have this contact in this theological symposium. His Eminence said too many good things about me; I don’t know if I deserve them. I had a hard time accepting this invitation because I know that there are many great theologians in your church, and in the few days that I’ve been here, I understood that you have a good theological thinking, so I have a difficulty speaking to you.

I apologize for not speaking in English. I used to speak English, and I can read it, and I taught at the Balamand School 30 years ago, but unfortunately I have forgotten it. I will try to speak in the language of theology and the language of the heart.

So the topic of this symposium is “Theology, Pastoral Care, and Psychology.” So in these three days I will discuss three topics: first, Orthodox theology and Western theology; tomorrow, on Orthodox psychotherapy in relation to modern Western psychology; and on the third day, about the bioethical issues that arise in our day and how they are dealt with by theology. I’m not going to say things that are unknown to you. They are known to you, so I will only remind some of them to you. Perhaps in the discussion that will follow, we will be able to analyze them in further detail.

So today’s topic is Orthodox theology and Western theology. It is a very important issue. It also affects our pastoral ministry. Orthodox clergy and theologians must know very well what is the difference between Orthodox theology and Western theology. I will divide my lecture into three parts. The first part is about what patristic theology is. The second part is on what exactly we mean by “Western theology.” And the third part, on how Western theology has influenced contemporary Orthodox theology.

First topic: what patristic theology is. The Fathers of the Church are the genuine theologians of the Church. Fr. Georges Florovsky, Fr. John Romanides, and other theologians have said important things about this topic. The Fathers are the successors of the prophets and the apostles. There is no difference between prophets, apostles, and the Fathers. There is a unity among these three: the prophets, the apostles, and the Fathers. They had a personal experience of God, and each one of them expressed this experience in the terminology of his own times. They have a common experience, a common teaching, a common tradition.

The difference between the prophets and the apostles is the following. In the Old Testament, the prophets would see the un-incarnated Logos, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. All God’s revelations in the Old Testament and in the New Testament are revelations of the Logos, the Word, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. The difference is that in the Old Testament we have revelations of the un-incarnate Word, while in the New Testament we have revelations of the incarnate Word. There’s no difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The apostles experienced the incarnate Word. They reached the experience of Pentecost. They became members of the body of Christ. And the Fathers throughout the centuries are the authentic teachers, the successors of the apostles.

What the true patristic theology is can be seen in the works of very many Fathers. I will concentrate on St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Gregory the Theologian. St. Gregory the Theologian says that a theologian is someone who has reached theoria, the vision of God, and has seen the glory of God, after first purifying their hearts from passions, or at least those who are in the process of purification. He describes all these in his first theological oration, and it is due to this oration that he got his name “Theologian”: Oration on Theology. In this Oration, one can find the preconditions of Orthodox theology.

It’s very important to talk about the presuppositions of what makes someone to be a true theologian. St. Gregory the Theologian refers to a purification of the heart and an illumination of the nous and then a vision of God. We see this in the whole patristic tradition. For example, St. Maximus the Confessor defines the three stages of the spiritual life: practical philosophy, which is the purification of the heart; natural contemplation, which is the illumination of the nous; and mystical theology, which is the vision of the Uncreated Light of the glory of God.

St. Maximus also provides evidence for the three stages of spiritual life. He writes that when man overcomes pain and pleasure, then he experiences purification. When he overcomes forgetfulness and ignorance and he remembers God, then this is the illumination of the nous. And when he overcomes or transcends fantasy, then he has reached the glory of God—imagination: when he transcends imagination, then he reaches the third stage.

In the works of the holy Fathers, there is also a different distinction of the stages of spiritual life. The first is God’s appearance as light, which is what happened to Moses. The second stage is the withdrawal of divine grace, so this activates man’s free will. And the third is the return of the divine grace to man. I think there is no difference between these two traditions. The two traditions are intertwined. That is, when God sends his grace to man, then he is illumined and he starts purifying himself in the grace of God. When we say “purification, illumination, and deification,” it is a particular way of experiencing the grace of God. God’s grace is one and his energy is one, but depending on the results it takes a different name. When it purifies man from passions, it is called purifying energy. When it illumines man and noetic prayer starts within him, then it is called illuminating energy. And when it deifies man, then it is called theoria, vision-of-God energy.

It is, as we say, that there is no paradise and hell from the point of view of God, only from the point of view of man. God sends his grace to everyone. Christ himself says it rains to good and evil people, but it acts differently on each person depending on his own state. For some it becomes hell; for others it becomes paradise. There’s a beautiful image (icon) of the Last Judgment. In that icon, from the same God there flows light that illumines the righteous and a river of fire that burns the unrighteous. The Fathers give an interesting example. When we put mud under the sun, mud is hardened. When we put a candle under the sun, the candle softens and becomes liquid. This is not due to God. It’s due to the state each object is or each person is.

St. Gregory of Nyssa gives an interpretation of what Orthodox theology is. He takes the example of the people who left the land of Egypt and went to the promised land. He was asked, “What is a perfect life?” and he interpreted a perfect life through the life of Moses. Moses saw God in the light, the pre-incarnate Word. Then he took the people from Egypt and guided them through the Red Sea to the promised land. So we have an exodus, an exit, from Egypt, which is the passions; the crossing of the Red Sea, which is purification; and then they reach the land of promise.

When one reads his book on the life of Moses, he realizes very well what theology is and what pastoral care is. A theologian is a spiritual father, and a spiritual father is a theologian. Like Moses, he takes people, and through asceticism and the divine sacraments, he leads them to the knowledge and communion with God. This is done through baptism, chrismation, and the divine Eucharist. With baptism, one is born in Christ; with chrismation, he is illumined and he acquires movement, as St. Nicholas Cabasilas says; and with holy communion he obtains food. In short, this is Orthodox theology.

The second part of today’s lecture is what Western theology is. Around the ninth century, there developed a new theology which attempted to detach itself from patristic theology as we presented it. The basic principle there is that the patristic theology was finished in the eighth century. Patristic theology was completed with the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and now a new theology starts. This was called Scholastic theology. There are some stages in this theology. The first one is Scholastic theology, from the ninth to the 11th century; Scholastic theology proper from the 11th to the 13th century; and post-Scholastic theology after the 13th century; and finally, neo-Scholastic theology.

First of all, why was it called “Scholastic theology”? In Western Europe, the first universities had developed, and they had various schools, like today. Those who studied in the universities at that time, they were called Scholastics because they studied in the schools. Scholastic theology had a method, and this method was to investigate all subjects, including God, through reasoning. They interpreted through reason all the material objects in the world, and with the same reason they interpreted things about God. In patristic theology, there is a different methodology. There’s [one] methodology for acquiring scientific knowledge, and a different methodology for acquiring the knowledge of God. It is what Dr. Christopher Veniamin said before, that through reason we investigate scientific things, but through the nous we know God.

Scholastic theology used a single method, both for created and uncreated things. That’s why some Scholastic philosophers used Plato and others used Aristotle. The basic principle was St. Augustine’s motto, credo ut intelligam—I believe in order to understand. So first I believe that there is God and then I try intellectually to understand it. It is significant to observe that Scholastic theologians, when speaking about God, they use the feudal system of the Franks. The Fathers employed the image of God who is love, as a Father who is loving, that God loves people and people participate and share in the love of God.

Scholastic theologians took the model of the feudal system. The Franks imposed a social system in which the king was at the top of the pyramid, and below that there were other groups—the barons, the counts—and at the very base is the people. According to this teaching, God is the highest justice. They emphasized God’s justice, not his love. At the same time, God is the highest honor. Everyone should respect and honor God, like the subjects respect and honor the king, and there is an order in the entire creation. No man can transcend his class in this order. So the interpreted thing is for someone to transcend his class, to transcend this order, was to insult God: the theory of Anselm of Canterbury.

But Adam with his sin insulted God, his justice, and in the feudal system anyone who violates this order has to be punished. So while in the patristic tradition sin is man’s distancing from the light of God, which means that man has become sick, in Scholastic theology sin is an insult to the divine justice. Thomas Aquinas, in his system, identified the essence of God with his uncreated energy. So God communicates with people through created energies, the so-called actus purus. These are the basic principles of Scholastic theology.

Some have used as a basis Plato’s theory of ideas, and others have used Aristotle’s theory on logic. But they all considered that Scholastic theology is superior to patristic theology, because it is associated with philosophy. Protestant theology is a reaction to Scholastic theology. There were some independent minds who could not accept this distorted theology in the West. They reacted against Scholasticism. They didn’t know Orthodox patristic theology because the Orthodox East was subjugated to the Ottomans at that time. So they reached the other end, the other extreme, in refuting Scholasticism.

This is how biblical theology developed. They tried to interpret the holy Scripture outside Scholasticism. They detached the interpretation of the holy Scripture from Scholastic dogmatics, and they interpreted the holy Scripture according to the historical context in which each of the authors of the books of the holy Scripture lived or according to literary forms used by each writer and by comparing biblical ideas with many biblical models.

So it is a method of interpreting the Scripture according to philology and history and life of each author wrote, each prophet. So, for example, they find differences between the synoptic gospels and the gospel according to St. John. They spot differences between the prophets and the apostles. There’s a break between prophets, apostles, and Fathers, or even differences in the theology among the apostles, so there is talk about the theology of St. Paul, of St. John, of St. Peter, and they tried to find what influenced each apostle in writing his text.

The Fathers interpret the holy Scripture in a different way than biblical criticism. They say that each writer has the same experience, the same empirical theology, but records it in a different way, his own way. Of course, we do not reject the positive elements of biblical research, but we do not accept the context, i.e., that each prophet did not have an experience of God but simply wrote depending on the influences upon him of his own time.

Now we come to the third part of my lecture, which is the pseudomorphosis of contemporary Orthodox theology. The term “pseudomorphosis” was coined by Fr. Georges Florovsky. Pseudomorphosism, [mineralogy], the science of minerals, is the process by which one mineral is replaced by another. So it refers to an internal change of an object. So in our context, pseudomorphosism means the replacement of Orthodox theology by some other theology. Since I don’t have enough time to develop this subject further, I will only present briefly, and then in the discussion we might analyze it further.

Fr. John Romanides used to say that pseudomorphosism in contemporary Orthodox theology is manifest in three issues. First is the ontology of the person. The teaching about the person in God is a patristic teaching. The Fathers said that God is three Persons who have three hypostatic properties: a common essence and three hypostatic properties. The problem is when this teaching about the Holy Trinity is transferred to man. The Triune God is three Persons, but the Fathers said man is in the image and in the likeness of God. When Fr. Sophrony talked about man as a person, he was analyzing the progression from being in the image to being in the likeness. However, modern personalists analyze this concept of person not the way Fr. Sophrony did, as a journey or progression from according to the image going to according to the likeness of God. They analyze it through existentialist philosophy and German idealism. So when they speak about the person in man, they associate nature with person. [Translator requests clarification.] (This is a very complex thing.)

His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios, interpreted by Dr. Christopher Veniamin: Contemporary personalists connect the will with the person, and nature with necessity. What does this mean? This means that the entire scope of patristic theology is changed, because the Fathers say that the will is an appetite of nature, not of the person. That is why, in God, we have one will, one nature; one will, three Persons. If we identify the will with the Person, then we have three wills; we don’t. So the will of the Father is one thing, the will of the Son another, and the will of the Holy Spirit yet another. The same thing applies to Christology. In Christ we have two natures and one Person. We have two wills, not one will. If we identify the will with the Person, then in Christ we can only have one will, which is contrary to the Sixth Ecumenical Council. That is why today the greatest influence is personalism under the influence of existentialism and human rights. This is the first point or area where we find this pseudomorphosis.

The second point concerns eucharistic ecclesiology. Of course, the divine Eucharist is the center of the life of the Church, but it is not the only thing. We also have prayer; we also have the holy Scriptures. In the Acts of the Apostles, it says in the sixth chapter that the apostles and the disciples remained in the teaching, in the communion, and in the prayer. Those theologians who have been influenced by extraneous forces remain fixated only on the divine Eucharist and without presuppositions. That is to say that they believe that we participate in the divine Eucharist without the necessary preconditions, which are prayer and the ascetic life. Of course, we love the divine Eucharist, but we must participate in it according to the correct preconditions.

Allow me to say this more clearly. The bishop is the president, the one who presides over the eucharistic gathering, but he is also the prophet who teaches the people. This [is a] combination relationship between divine Eucharist and prophesy. And in addition, all Christians who participate in the divine Eucharist have charisms, and this is clearly seen in the first epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. The Christians who participated in the divine Eucharist had charisms, had gifts, and these were prophesy, ministry, and others. And so the theologians who do not understand this speak of the divine Eucharist in a way that severs it from these necessary preconditions.

In the third point, where this pseudomorphosis is indicated, brought into relief, is the distinction that exists between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory. In the Orthodox tradition, there is a close relationship between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory. Through the cross we are guided to glory, to resurrection. Some contemporary theologians speak of the glory of the cross or the glory of the kingdom of God without participating in the mystery of the cross. Participating in the mystery of the cross means ascesis, ascetic striving, an ascesis against the passions, striving against the passions. All of the mysteries, all of the sacraments contain not only the glory, of course, but also the mystery of the cross. The divine holy communion, the divine Eucharist, is the kingdom of God on earth, but the one who experiences this is the one who participates in the cross.

The same thing applies to the mystery of priesthood. The priesthood is participation in the glory of God. The priesthood is participation in Pentecost, but at the same time it is a participation in the cross of Christ, of the love of Christ, in his kenosis, his self-emptying. That is why the priesthood offers self-emptying.

The Metropolitan will stop now and give an opportunity during the discussion to become more specific.

In conclusion, I want to say simply this is the difference between patristic theology and contemporary secularized theology, Western theology. We must know patristic theology in order to help modern man be healed of his passions, because the Church is not simply a philosophy but a hospital which brings healing to each person, which is the theme of tomorrow’s presentation. Thank you for listening to me, and forgive me for not speaking more articulately.

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