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Dumitru Staniloae on The Fall :: Eastern Orthodox Theology

Staniloae, Dumitru. The Experience of God, Vol 1: Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God.  Reprint, Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998.

The Fall

Goodness, friendship, noble aspirations, the hope for the immortality of the person—all these have remained like the rays of a sun that can never be totally covered over by the fleeting and ultimately rather insubstantial clouds of evil” — Dumitru Staniloae

“God’s grace has been withdrawn … the image of God in man has been weakened.  Yet, this image in the human being has not been destroyed totally.” — Dumitru Staniloae

The Primordial State

Staniloae refers to the primordial state of the human.  During the primordial state man, after first being created, had to choose to obey God and thereby progress toward deification, or else regress into a state of spiritual weakness.  The primordial state of man was the initial state of our first created parents.  During this state our first parents were innocent, yet during this time of innocence it was incumbent upon them to choose between good and evil.  It appears, then, from Staniloae’s description, that during this primordial state, humans were neutral, having chosen neither good nor evil.  Yet neutrality could not last forever, because choosing was inevitable.  God breathed “spirit” into man that included a certain “potency” to act by free will (178).

The Tree of Knowledge

A great deal of this chapter revolves around interpreting the meaning of the trees in the Genesis story, especially the forbidden tree, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in the creation account (175). Staniloae calls the latter the “tree of consciousness” (178).  The Genesis account reads:

The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.  The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.  Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. … Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.  The Lord God commanded the man, saying “From any tree of the garden you man eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die. Then the Lord God said, “it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” –Genesis 2:7-9, 15-18 (NASB)

What is this tree of knowledge?  A significant portion of Staniloae’s chapter on the Fall consists of a recounting the interpretation of the Fathers, interweaved with his own comments.  It is therefore difficult at times to discern whether Staniloae is summarizing the fathers or adding his own color commentary on the patristic tradition.

St. Maximus the Confessor understood the forbidden tree to represent “the creation of visible things” (175).  The dual imagery underscores the dual power of creation—it can either nourish the mind if used for spiritual purposes, or become a teacher of passions by enticing the senses.  But if it had such great possibilities for good, why did God forbid it?  According to St. Maximus, God desired simply to “postpone” man’s partaking of it until he was able to commune with it enough in grace to habituate himself into a spiritual state where his mind and senses could be “transfigured” and his will free from the passions, a state of deification.  Given Staniloae’s quotation of St. Maximus’ interpretation, however, it is hard to understand how God could have postponed his partaking of the visible world on the one hand, while in the mean time Adam “communed” with it by grace.  In other words, how is communing with the visible world itself not a “partaking” of the visible world?  This same question could be raised of every other interpretation that sees the forbidden tree as the visible world.  How could God “postpone” a physical creatures partaking of the physical world?

Nicetas Stethatos thought the tree of knowledge was “sensation applied to the sensible world or to the body” (176).  For Stethatos, the danger of becoming unspiritual is avoided so long as man’s senses were guided by the mind.  Thus, God wanted his partaking of the tree delayed long enough for man’s faculties to come under the direction of a mind that had become spiritual.

St. Gregory Palamas is “even more precise” according to Staniloae.  God wanted to protect the first humans from things pleasant to the senses because they were volitionally vulnerable, “easily displaced toward good or its opposite” (176).

Offering a complementary interpretation of both trees in the Genesis account (the forbidden tree and the tree of life), Gregory of Nyssa understood the tree of life as every experience that advances man toward good, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil as representing every experience that leads man astray by causing him to believe something evil is actually good (179).  The forbidden tree is a “mixed tree,” according to Gregory of Nyssa, because in and of itself creation is not evil.  Only when creation is crassly enjoyed only by the senses does the human person become passionately inflamed for sensible beauty and pleasure (180).  The tree is “mixed,” in other words, because it is a good experienced in a bad way when encountered by the sense-dominated human.  It is also mixed because evil always shrouds its true nature by cloaking itself in “some good by which it lures those who are deceived into desiring it” (180).  It makes evil seem good by virtue of some good aspect, for nothing is evil in an absolute sense, according to Gregory of Nyssa, but has some good aspect to recommend it (180).

Because the human still has “an indelible remnant of the good within himself,” he “must deceive himself by thinking that the sin he is committing has some justification through good” (181).  Yet such justification forces the human to become dishonest with his own conscience and therefore willingly deceived (181).  This dishonest justification Staniloae calls “a flimsy bridge” that allows evil to get into a person.

According to Staniloae, evil offers an initial pleasure that has subtle but destructive consequences.  This initial pleasure, however, is enough to entice people to become willingly deceived.  Evil entices all on its own without the devil, yet the devil’s role is to calm the human soul about the inevitable consequences of evil—“You surely will not die! … You will be like God” (Gen 3:4-5, NASB).

In Staniloae’s synthetic summary, the Fathers understood the “tree of life” and the “tree of knowledge” as referring to “one and the same world” (179).

Viewed through a mind moved by spirit, that world is the tree of life that puts us in relationship with God; but viewed and made use of through a consciousness that has been detached from the mind moved by spirit, it represents the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which severs man from God. (179).

The tree of life and the tree of knowledge are located at the “same central point” (189).

The meaning might be that one and the same world, when grasped exclusively by means of the senses and by reason placed at the service of the senses, is the source of the good that is not good; whereas, when grasped in its real significance by a reason that sees more deeply and instead places the senses in its own service, it becomes a source of life. (189).

St. Maximus the Confessor understood the forbidden tree to represent “the creation of visible things,” but if this is the interpretation, why would St. Maximus (or any other Father) say that God wanted to “postpone” the forbidden tree?

Causes of the Fall

St. Basil the Great also spoke of the primordial state and emphasized that mankind was not created “intrinsically evil,” but rather chose evil.  God created man with free will, for he wanted the human to be strengthened in good “through his own cooperation,” rather than of necessity (177).  Staniloae infers that the primordial state must have been abrupt.  It didn’t have to be that way, however.  If our first parents were simply obedient over a period of time, “they would have begun to be habituated to good” (176).  Even then, however, the Fall would not have been impossible, but only “more difficult” (176).

It is important to remember that the human choice of evil was not brought about by any necessity, but by imprudence and lack of effort on the part of the human.  Basil blamed the human’s first choice of evil largely on what he called aboulia [lack of wisdom or laziness of the will].  Human complacency was caused by a kind of anthropological spoil: humans had everything readily available to them without first growing spiritually by their efforts to win them.  Our first parents preferred to choose the easy enjoyments that required little effort, rather than putting forth the effort to grasp the deeper spiritual enjoyments of the good.  They were lazy.  Staniloae’s summary here of Basil implies that humans failed to properly prioritize their enjoyments by preferring what was effortlessly at hand over the pursuit of a deeper and deeper enjoyment of the good, an enjoyment that would grow their spiritual strength.  As Basil put it, they placed a full belly above spiritual enjoyments. This choice for evil was not of necessity, but rooted in aboulia [lack of wisdom or laziness of the will]. 

Results of the Fall

Before sin, “no separation existed between creation and the world of the divine energies” (187). Through sin, man was severed from God and introduced into “a state of sin” (192). The Spirit has “withdrawn both from the world and from the human person” (186).  We might call this a pneumatological abandonment or divine withdrawal.  Sickness and death are something like organic consequences to the withdrawal of the Spirit (191).  Corruption of nature and death are brought about by “the impoverishment of the spirit” (197).  Thus, the spiritual tragedy of the Fall (moral evil) and the material tragedy of the Fall (evils associated with natural evil) go hand in hand.

As a result of choosing evil the human being experienced interior detachment from God, affirming his autonomy to do as he wishes.  This also results in the human’s “selfish confinement within himself” whereby he, presuming to become his own lord, in reality became his own slave (178-179).  Staniloae here offers a peculiar way to think about human freedom:

The human person is free only if he is free also from himself for the sake of others, in love, and if he is free for God who is the source of freedom because he is the source of love. (179)

This change is a change of “motion.”  Had Adam not sinned but obeyed God, he would have progressed in an ever-increasing motion towards love for God and neighbor where creation would become deified by being “overwhelmed by the divine Spirit” (185).  This might be called a pneumatic momentum rooted in the movement of the Spirit.  Instead, however, when our first parents chose evil, they set in motion a “decomposition” of creation (185).  We might call this a hamartiological momentum rooted in the movement of man’s will toward sin and therefore away from God. Such a destructive momentum would only be reversed by the second Adam, Christ Jesus.  Thus, “The return of the human being to communion with God delivers him from eternal death” (187).

As a result of the Fall, humans are now plagued with teleological opacity and epistemological reduction.  They have a hard time seeing the ultimate meaning of existence, and their “restricted image of the world” leads to a “restricted knowledge,” for the human person becomes familiar exclusively with the bodily and sensible enjoyments of the world and therefore views the visible world as an “ultimate object possessed of no transparence or mystery that transcends it” (184).  This teleological opacity “veils what is most essential in creation” and obtains only a “narrowly rational knowledge of nature and of his fellow humans” (184, 188).  This is an epistemological perversion in which man comes to think of the world in almost “exclusively rational” terms (188).

Furthermore, man reduces the world to being “an object of the lower appetites” (191).  This tragic reductionism is a basic way of understanding the nature of sin and the state of mankind after the Fall.  Living under these conditions is a life lived in a “pseudo-reality” (191).  Staniloae links this pseudo-reality with the doctrine of hell.  “According to the Christian faith,” claims Staniloae, “the sinners in hell exist in the darkness that lies outside the real world” (190). The sinner becomes so obsessed with herself that she forgets about the rest of the world.

In the state of sin our very being can advance to such a condition of self-centeredness that it almost no longer knows whether creation really exists.  Eternal death is the rendering of this state permanent (192).

Not only do humans become alienated from others and the world, but also from themselves:

The conscious creature could no longer understand even himself apart from his blind impulse toward biological satisfactions and began to look upon the spirit within himself as a curiosity, something disruptive of life and contrary to nature, an unnatural excrescence he did not have to take much into account. (198)

Through sin the soul becomes possessed by the lower passions and looses its sensitivity of conscience and also looses its transparency before God and others.

Staniloae is determined to make sure his readers understand that although death and corruption of nature are results of sin, they are not punishments from God.  Suffering and death were “in no way” punishments from God to Adam (201).

Adam’s slavery is the natural consequence of his being vanquished; his suffering is the physiological result of the trauma he himself sustained when he turned aside from his path, and death follows upon alienation from God.  To regard God as the cause of suffering and death is an essential error, a real affront offered to him. (201).

He considers such a notion “heretical” for it strips the cross of its glorious ring of victory and turns it into “a simple instrument of suffering and of the placating of God’s ‘wrath’” (202).  “Neither corruptibility nor death, therefore, are punishments from God; they are instead consequences of our alienation from the source of life” (202). But it does seem, however, that our alienation from the source of life was divinely initiated or results from divine causality because of sin: “God’s grace has been withdrawn” (204).  God’s chooses to withdraw his grace because of sin.

The Good in Man and in the World

It is also important that one notice that the Fathers attempted to maintain a certain kind of balance in their post-Fall anthropological outlook, seeing the human as neither fundamentally bad nor wholly good, but in a state of ambivalence. Staniloae stresses that the imago Dei [image of God] was overshadowed by sin, but not “totally erased” (200 cf. 204).

By himself the human person will certainly not be able to conquer the evil that was introduced within him, but neither will the evil do away entirely with the good in the human person.  The human person will remain in an ambivalent state. (182).

This state of ambivalence could be thought of as a contradiction of anthropological tendencies.  On the one hand, because man is created as spiritual, there is still a natural tendency toward good which evil must deceptively suppress.  On the other hand, humans have an opposite tendency toward evil.

Although the world, along with its sensible pleasures, is seen myopically from a sensible perspective, nevertheless, God has ordered creation in such a way that it is capable of being the medium through which he speaks to human persons and initiates a “dialogue” between God and man designed to help man see the higher purpose of the visible world, thereby breaking out of his deficient worldview and uniting reason with love.  Through their own efforts and their link with the divine energy, a minority of human beings can even overcome “natural causality itself” (186).

Further complementing this point, St. Basil the Great offers another perspective on the Fall of humanity that Staniloae argues is complementary to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s.  Basil stressed that although the fall itself is evil, it brings about good, for evil awakened our first parents to repentance and led them to take action in curbing their fleshly impulses (182).  God placed within man the “impulse” to fight against Satan (Gen 3:15).  Staniloae also argues that work was given to man as a tool for healing (195).  Suffering helps the spiritual development of man “to an even greater extent” (195).

Although man is no longer “completely” in the imago dei due to dark shadow cast by sin, “goodness, friendship, noble aspirations, the hope for the immortality of the person—all these have remained like the rays of a sun that can never be totally covered over by the fleeting and ultimately rather insubstantial clouds of evil” (200).  Thus, in spite of the Fall, it appears that Staniloae has a rather optimistic view of human possibilities and considers the evil in the world relatively “insubstantial.”  Even suffering and death has become God’s divine pedagogy to grow the spirit of man (202-203).  “They are not meant to last forever, but God changes their role so that they become means of healing evil” (202).  Staniloae’s comments here make more clear why Eastern theology has always tended to hold open the possibility for inevitable universal salvation.

Knowledge of the Good and Human Communion

There is a heavy polemic on intellectual autonomy and individualism in Staniloae’s discussion of the good. Essentially, Adam wanted to decide for himself what was the good.  We might call this a tragic epistemological hubris of autonomy that severed the harmony between man and God by a breach of trust. The good was then accommodated to selfish and sinful interests and pleasures rather than being pursued in loving relationship with others. This propels the human into immense sadness rather than fulfilling her being.  “In communion evil is overcome, for communion is a fulfillment of being” (193).

The good, then, has to do with a continual exercise of man’s responsibility toward his fellow humans (193).  “Christian faith says that if I take my orientation from my reason only when I am deciding what is good for the other and for myself, then I am using my reason arrogantly and selfishly and am departing from both the true and the good” (193).  Love is the source of good and love alone serves what is genuinely good.  “The isolated decision made according to a rational norm established by the individual cannot do this,” warns Staniloae (194).  In other words, Staniloae sees a connection between love and consulting the reason of others.

I must consult his reason also, for each one sets out from different concrete circumstances and needs, and in any case, the ultimate good is brought to light through dialogue with the other.  … I must submit self-centered reason to the good, or to the higher reason found in the communion that grows from love.  I must submit reason to love. (194)

The good also consists in meeting one’s duties and responsibilities to nature, not just looking at nature as an object to use for profit.  The latter is a “good of a lower kind, fleshly and egoistic” (194).  We also must be careful not to base our morality upon the way nature is, for “the good is what ought to be done, not simply what is” (195, italics added).  “The good comes to be known only in loving dialogue with other persons, in the curbing of selfishness and pride” (195).  In a subject who has become good, the good radiates outwards as a power.  It is manifested as love for other persons.  But the good shines forth most brightly from the “supreme Personal reality” (195).  Through love of God a human becomes like God and humbles himself to love others and consult their reason rather than relying on his isolated insight.


Dumitru Staniloae on Natural Revelation :: Eastern Orthodox Theology

Staniloae, Dumitru. The Experience of God, Vol 1: Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God.  Reprint, Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998.

Natural Revelation

Meanings are real and man cannot live without them

–Dumitru Staniloae

The Orthodox Church makes no separation between natural and supernatural revelation.”

–Dumitru Staniloae


Dumitru Staniloae’s Neo-Patristic approach to theology is exemplified in his first chapter on natural revelation.  He basically attempts to explore and elucidate what he understands to be the position of St. Maximus.  Maximus believed that supernatural/biblical revelation was not essentially different than natural revelation, but only embodied it in historical persons and actions.  Staniloae’s task is to explain what he understands this position to entail, and explain the facets of its truth. Ultimately, Staniloae appears to soften Maximus’s stark way of putting it.  “This affirmation of Maximos must probably be taken more in the sense that the two revelations are not divorced from one another.  Supernatural revelation unfolds and brings forth its fruit within the framework of natural revelation” (1).  Confirming this interpretation of Staniloae, in his chapter on Supernatural Revelation, he concedes that without the light of supernatural revelation to accompany natural revelation, “serious obscurities of natural faith in God have occurred” (17).

In his patristic exegesis on natural revelation, although Staniloae quotes most often from St. Maximus, he also quotes from other Fathers of the church.  For example, to illustrate St. Maximus’s point that man was made for God as his beginning and goal, he quotes from St. Augustine, who says “Inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te [our heart is restless until it rests in you]” (13).  He also quotes Saint Isaak the Syrian who says “faith is higher than knowledge” (13).

Staniloae’s emphasis throughout his treatment of natural revelation is in stark contrast to Protestant theologies that tend to jealously guard a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural revelation while downplaying the former as insufficient for salvation.  The point of this comparison is usually to show that natural revelation does not have the same value as supernatural revelation.  Maximus said just the opposite.  Therefore, Staniloae’s emphasis is on all the ways natural revelation and supernatural revelation overlap and have the same conclusion—that God is our ultimate end, and union with God is our ultimate meaning. Yet in spite of this, Staniloae still concedes that “faith based on natural revelation must be completed by the faith granted us through supernatural revelation” (13).  Therefore, although the emphasis in his treatment of natural revelation is very un-Protestant, many of the affirmations of his chapter are nevertheless compatible with Protestant (and Catholic) beliefs about natural revelation.


The content of natural revelation has to do with man and the cosmos.  Staniloae sees the cosmos as rational, and therefore “destined to be known” by man (2). This rational cosmos is understood to be the product of a rational creator being that also sustains its being.  The cosmos was created precisely in order that man might come to know it, and that God might carry on a dialogue with man “through its mediation.  This fact constitutes the content of natural revelation” (2).  It is through natural revelation that God “makes himself known by the very fact that he created the world and man, and stamped on them certain meanings” (12).  For Staniloae, natural revelation goes beyond a mere idea of a powerful creator because one of the “meanings” of natural revelation is that “the world has its highest point in the human person who moves toward union with supreme Person as towards his final goal” (12).

There is a certain mutual transformation between the cosmos and man, although the cosmos plays more of a passive role.  By intentionally transforming the world to our own advantage, man also transforms himself.  The more we know the world, the more we understand ourselves.  Yet the world never comes to a point of consciousness of itself—only man.  This means the world was created for man, not man for the world.

The inferior chemical, mineral, and organic levels of existence, although they have a rationality, have no purpose within themselves.  Their purpose consists in constituting the material condition of man’s existence, and they have no consciousness of this goal of theirs.  Within man, however, the order of certain conscious goals is disclosed.  … He can project, like a great arch over them all, an ultimate and supreme meaning to existence.  In contrast with the levels below him, man does not fulfil the goal of his own existence by serving another level above himself, for in the world no such level as this exists. (5)

The world is intended to be “humanized” and bear man’s “stamp” everywhere (4).  If death is the definitive end of a human being, it would appear to Staniloae that humans would only be a “means within an unconscious process of nature” (7).  Unless man is seen as the “final eternal purpose” of the cosmos, the world would seem “in its monotony, absurd” (6, 4, italics added).  “Human life ended definitively by death destroys any meaning and, therefore, any value of the rationality existing in the world and, indeed, of the world itself” (10).

If man is the purpose of the cosmos, what is the purpose of man?  For Staniloae, human consciousness implies a “search for the meaning of our existence,” and the human will desires to live forever (5).  We desire most deeply to love and be loved, and we do not wish our quest for this to ever come to an end.  These anthropological facets testify to the ultimate teleological function of man—to be in loving relation with an infinite, eternal, conscious Person, or better yet, “a communion of Persons” (6).  This kind of relationship fulfills man’s deepest meanings because it provides “the means of an infinite progress in love and knowledge” (6).  Man’s meaning must be higher than the monotonous repetition found in nature.  “We do not aspire to being swallowed up within some impersonal plan which lies, for a while, at our limited disposal but only so that afterwards we may disappear into it” (8).

Our cruelest grief is the lack of meaning, that is, the lack of an eternal meaning to our life and deeds.  The necessity of this meaning is intimately connected to our being.  The dogmas of faith respond to this necessity that our being have some sense.  Thus they affirm the complete rationality of existence. (10)

Although some would say this order of meanings is merely the product of the human psyche, Staniloae argues that “this order imposes itself on us without our willing it,” instilling these aspirations within us.  Without these meanings, the universe is absurd and the rationality of the universe, irrational (11). Without a rationality higher than the rationality of the cosmos, Staniloae argues, rationality itself has no purpose (11).

Much like man is aware of the orders of meaning in the world, so God is aware of “the meaning of existence as a whole” (9).  God is the “supreme Personal reality” (9).  God created man as a free and conscious person, and does not suppress these facets of man, but rather fosters them.  The communion between the human person and this supreme Person, therefore, must be something that still preserves the freedom of the human person.

Only when the rationality of the universe is considered to have its source in a rational person who “makes it serve an eternal dialogue of love with other persons” does rationality acquire its “full meaning” (11).  Only through this communion (which is characterized by happiness) can a person’s ultimate “meaning” be “fulfilled,” and this is how deification takes place (11).  Man “participates immediately in everything God possess” while nevertheless remaining a creature (11-12).  This is a “meaning towards which our being tends” (12).  Love between two persons requires that each move toward the other.  Thus, in this communion of love between God and man, man moves toward God and God also “descends to be with us” (12).  This “development” is eternal, in accord with man’s aspirations (12).

Staniloae makes a distinction between natural revelation and science:

But the meanings of existence, including its final sense, however evident they seem, do not compel the recognition of science in the way that natural phenomena do, for the latter occur in the same fashion repeatedly and can be subjected to experimentation.  That is why the firm acceptance of these meaning has the character of faith. (13).

There is a certain paradox here.  On the one hand, this is natural revelation that is “self evident,” yet on the other hand, it must be accepted by the human will.  Acceptance of the truths of natural revelation, then, presupposes faith (13).  The paradox lies in the fact that although acceptance of them depends on an act of faith, the truths themselves are self evident.  This is why Saint Isaak the Syrian says “faith is higher than knowledge,” because it involves the domain of human freedom and human spirit.

Book Review (pt4): The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware: Criticism and Conclusion

The following is part 4 of 4 in my book review of Timothy Ware’s The Orthodox Church, 3rd edition (New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 359 pp.  Here I offer a few critical thoughts of my own and a conclusion.  Click here for the full review in PDF, click here for the 2-part audio podcast version of my book review.  Because the West is so ignorant of Eastern Orthodoxy and because Ware’s book is already a compact summary of Orthodoxy, I trust that these book reviews will be a valuable resource for those who are the slightest interested in Orthodox Christianity.


One does not need to read between the lines to see that Ware is not writing as a disinterested observer of The Orthodox Church.  His book could be considered an enthusiastic and engaging commendation of Orthodox Christianity to Western Christians.  At various points throughout the book, his overview of Orthodoxy comes across as apologetical in tone.  I will draw out two examples and give a brief critique of them: 1) his insistence that the Orthodox Church is utterly unique from anything Western and 2) his historical representation of Patriarch Photius. 

The Uniqueness of Orthodoxy

Ware wants his readers to see that “Orthodoxy is not just a kind of Roman Catholicism without the Pope,” but distinct from any Western “religious system” (2).  To Ware, Protestants and Catholics both have more in common with each other than either of them do with Orthodoxy; they are “two sides of the same [Western] coin” (2).  Indeed there appears to be a subtle (but noticeable) pejorative use of the word “Western,” along with the assumption that Western influence spells the degradation of Orthodoxy (see esp. 116-117).

Ware also appears to have been influenced greatly by Alexis Khomiakov (the first “original” Russian theologian) and his insistence that all Western theology “betrays the same fundamental point of view, while Orthodoxy is something entirely distinct” (123, italics added).  Ware introduces his readers to Orthodox theology this way:

Christians in the west, both Roman and Reformed, generally start by asking the same questions, although they may disagree about the answers.  In Orthodoxy, however, it is not merely the answers that are different—the questions themselves are not the same as in the west. (1)

Ware also emphasizes that the Orthodox Church has never undergone a Reformation or Counter-Reformation like the West, but were only affected by this upheaval in an “oblique” way (1).

As we begin to explore Orthodox theology with Ware, however, it quickly becomes clear that Ware’s claims about the absolute uniqueness of Orthodoxy are exaggerated. For example, thinking of Scripture as existing “within Tradition” and not something entirely distinct from Tradition is one of the ways Catholics have responded to the Protestant position of sola scriptura (196-97).  Protestants would likely think of Ware’s argument that “it is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority” as a “Catholic” argument, along with his argument that “individual readers, however sincere, are in danger of error if they trust their own personal interpretation” (199). Ecumenical Councils are binding to both Catholics and the Orthodox, even if they disagree about what would qualify as an ecumenical council.

Ware assures his readers that Orthodoxy believes the Church should be a Scriptural Church “just as firmly” as Protestants (199).  Although the Orthodox (along with Protestants) think Catholic claims of papal authority have resulted in “too great a centralization” in matters of church government, nevertheless, all Catholics and Orthodox alike share in the assumption that the church is to be governed by an authoritative hierarchy (216).  The Orthodox Church may very well be much more than simply a kind of Catholic Church without a pope, but in many areas of church government they are similar enough to cause some Protestants to strain to see what major differences there would be if the pope were not in the governing equation.

Nor is this all. Orthodoxy in fact shares many assumptions and questions in common with other Christian traditions.  It would appear Ware himself proves by his overview of Orthodox doctrines that much of Orthodox theology is very close (if not the same) as in other Christian traditions.  If we are to take Ware as fairly representing the Orthodox position on grace and free-will, it is clear the Orthodox Church falls in the Arminian side of the Arminian-Calvinist debate, for even his way of phrasing the issue bears Arminian assumptions and leaves the “synergy” between God and man ultimately dependent upon the human, for “God knocks, but waits for us to open the door” (222).  This is an Arminian notion of synergy that attributes the granting of grace to God and the acceptance of this grace to the human person, whereas Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin all wished to attribute even the acceptance of grace to God’s grace itself.  That is, much of Western theology—following Augustine—has thought of the human free-will as the proper object of God’s grace, and thus one of the proper functions of grace is to effectively move the free human will to freely accept salvation.  As Aquinas put it:

The justification of the ungodly is brought about by God moving man to justice.  For He it is that justifieth the ungodly according to Rom. Iv. 5.  Now God moves everything in its own manner, just as we see that in natural things, what is heavy and what is light are moved differently, on account of their diverse natures.  Hence He moves man to justice according to the condition of his human nature.  But it is man’s proper nature to have free-will.  Hence in him who has the use of reason, God’s motion to justice does not take place without a movement of the free-will; but He so infuses the gift of justifying grace that at the same time He moves the free-will to accept the gift of grace.[1]

To present the issue as Ware does—that either one believes in synergy or else that God draws people by “force and violence”—demonstrates Ware’s Arminian notion of free-will (222).  This gives the reader the impression that even though the Orthodox Church did not participate actively in the Reformation debates, nevertheless, she not only asks the same sort of questions that the Western traditions have asked, but answers such questions in the same way that many Western theological traditions have answered them. Furthermore, although the Orthodox Church certainly did not participate in the Reformation debates as actively as Protestants and Catholics, they were, however, forced to give their position on many of the fundamental questions that Protestant theologians were raising (see esp. 94-99).

Can we really say that Protestant and Catholic inquiry about papal authority, grace & free-will, the number and nature of the sacraments, the authority of scripture vs. tradition, etc., is fundamentally different than Orthodox inquiry?  Are we not asking the same questions? If Protestants and Catholics are not generally asking the same questions asked (or answered) in Orthodox theological inquiry (as Ware claims), how can such Protestants and Catholics ever hope to find answers to their deep theological inquiries in the Orthodoxy tradition?  Indeed, why have so many Protestants, for example, converted to Orthodoxy because they have found in Orthodox tradition more satisfying answers in their theological quest?  Given the degree of overlap between Western and Eastern theology, Ware’s claim that Orthodoxy does not ask the same questions as other “Western religious systems” and is somehow entirely unique appears to be considerably misleading.

St. Photius The Great

Ware’s picture of Photius is much more flattering than the picture we receive of him in Western historical treatments.  Rather than explain to the reader that the “schism of Nicolas” began because the rightful Patriarch of Constantinople (St. Ignatius) was forced to resign through the use of torture after he refused to give communion to the Emperor’s sexually immoral uncle, Ware chooses his words very carefully:

Soon after his accession [Photius] became involved in a dispute with Pope Nicolas I (858-67).  The previous Patriarch, St Ignatius, had been exiled by the Emperor and while in exile had resigned under pressure.  The supporters of Ignatius, declining to regard this resignation as valid, considered Photius a usurper. When Photius sent a letter to the Pope announcing his accession, Nicolas decided that before recognizing Photius he would look further into the quarrel between the new Patriarch and the Ignatian party. (52-53)

This account does not give consideration to why Pope Nicholas was determined to “investigate” the situation or why Ignatius’s supporters refused to recognize his resignation as valid.  It therefore cleverly obscures what many historiographers consider the occasion for the schism.  No matter how brilliant of a scholar Photius was (and there is no doubt about his scholarly abilities), the details surrounding his ascension as Patriarch of Constantinople are tainted with questionable politics.  Ware, on the other hand, clearly is a great admirer of Photius and delights in painting a flattering picture of him as St. Photius the Great.  He borrows Ostrogorsky’s word of praise that Photius was “the most distinguished thinker, the most outstanding politician, and the most skilful diplomat ever to hold office as Patriarch of Constantinople” (52).  Perhaps Photius was indeed all these things, but perhaps he was also a very shrewd politician, and perhaps Photius’s to-be-expected Orthodox position on the doctrine of Papal supremacy was not the deepest matter of concern for pope Nicholas.


All in all, Ware’s book is perhaps the most engaging and helpful introduction to Orthodoxy available for the Western world.[2] His enthusiastic tone and apologetical stance, far from making the book less commendable, will actually help the reader better sympathize with his Orthodox perspective. Ware’s occasional explicit criticisms of his own tradition,[3] sensitivity to Western concerns, summaries of why the Filioque could be considered heresy, frequent contrasts between Orthodox positions and Protestant or Catholic positions, all add to the value of his book and give it a delightful pungency.  Although his treatment is terse by design, his last chapter, entitled “Further Readings,” conveniently lists numerous sources in topical order for those who wish to do further study.  While his introduction to Orthodoxy is enlightening and elegant, much of his analysis is now outdated.  One can only hope that soon, following Ware’s example, a more up-to-date treatment of Orthodoxy will replace his now classical introduction.

Bradley R. Cochran

[T h e o • p h i l o g u e]


[1] Summa Theologica, trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 5 vols., rev. ed. (1948; repr., Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981), I-II.113.3. Furthermore, any movement of the will toward God is “already informed with grace” because it is the result of grace.  ST I-II.111.3.

[2] It is considered “a classical presentation of The Orthodox Church ever since it first appeared in 1963.”  Edward G. Farrugia, “The Orthodox Church,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 62, no. 2 (1996), 536.

[3] He mentions, for example, that due to the traditional alliance between church and state in many Slavic countries, the Slavs “have often confused the two and have made the Church serve the ends of national politics” (77).  Nationalism, in Ware’s book, has been “the bane of Orthodoxy for the last ten centuries” (77).

Book Review (pt.3): The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware: Orthodox Theology

The following is part 3 of my book review of Ware’s The Orthodox Church. Here I focus on Orthodox Theology.  Click here for the full review in PDF, or here for the full review in podcast format.

Ware, Timothy.  The Orthodox Church, 3rd Edition. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1993. 359 pp.

The Trinity

As one might expect given the centrality of The Creed in Orthodox life, the foundation of Orthodox theology is the doctrine of the Trinity.  The theological definitions of Nicaea are not simply for high theologians or scholars, but have practical import for every Christian.  “Our private lives, our personal relations, and all our plans of forming a Christian society depend upon a right theology of the Trinity” (208).  To say God is Trinity is to say God is personal, “a perpetual movement of love” (209).  Although it is an Orthodox maxim that “all true theology is mystical,” and although Eastern theology is much more apophatic than Western theology, the definitional creeds demonstrate that the “way of negation” must always be a counterpart to the “way of affirmation,” or cataphatic theology (205, 209).

The Orthodox have developed an essential distinction between two aspects of God in order to preserve and protect the mystery and transcendence of God as well as the immanent experiential dimension of God: the essence-energies distinction.  God’s essence is unknowable, but his energies are ever-present in the created world.  As John of Damascus put it: “That there is a God is clear; but what He is by essence and nature, this is altogether beyond our comprehension and knowledge” (209).  On the other hand, God exists within creation and is “everywhere present and filling all things,” permeating the universe and “intervening directly in concrete situations” (209).  God’s essence and energies are different dynamics of God himself: two sides of the same being of God.  Therefore, God’s energies “are God himself,” and “we experience them in the form of deifying grace and divine light” (209).  We are not able to ever experience the fullness of God’s essence, but only participate in his energies.  “No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature or nearness to it” (209).  However, in the incarnation, God has surpassed merely being present in the form of his energies; he has come to the human race as a person.  “A closer union than this between God and His creation there could not be” (210).

Ware does a good job explaining why the Orthodox think the Filioque is heretical or at least dangerous.  It undermines the monarchy of the Father, and therefore the distinctness of the persons of the Trinity.  According to early Christian doctrine, the Father is the monarch of the Trinity—he is the only person in the Trinity whose origin is “solely in Himself and not in any other person” (211).  The Orthodox uphold the monarchy of the Father as essential to Trinitarian doctrine.  This is what makes him “Father.”  The Son and the Spirit have their eternal being from the Father.  The Son is eternally begotten from the Father and the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father.  The “Double-Procession” doctrine of the West obscures this truth, for it has the Holy Spirit proceeding also from the Son.  Yet this tension is apparently reconcilable if one conceives of this procession in this way: “the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son,” for then the Father is still the source (or as the East might say, then the Father is still the Father).  Even then, however, the Father must be understood to be the eternal source of the Holy Spirit, and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son must be seen as a temporal mission.  Undermining the distinctions of persons in the Trinity and what makes each person unique leads inevitably to de-personalizing the doctrine of the Trinity and falling into ditheism or semi-Sabellianism (213).

The Orthodox “hawks” follow the polemical spirit of Photius and consider the Filioque heresy, whereas the Orthodox “doves” advocate “a more lenient approach to the question” that focuses more on how the language of the Filioque is understood than on the phrase itself.  For the latter group, the Filioque is still “potentially misleading” and a “confused phrase” (213).  Ware suggests that the West has a tendency to overemphasize the unity of the Trinity and points to Aquinas as the example of how Western conceptions of the Trinity tend to depersonalize the Trinity.  According to Ware, Aquinas “went so far as to identify the persons with the relations: personae sunt ipsae relations,” which appears to turn God “into an abstract idea” (215).   The “hawks” think that the Filioque has caused the West to subordinate the Spirit to the Son—“if not in theory, then at any rate in practice” (215).


That we are made in the image and likeness of God must be understood primarily in terms of the Trinity.  In the Greek Fathers “image” and “likeness” are not mere synonyms.  Image refers to man as an icon of God: man’s free will, reason, and sense of moral responsibility.  “Likeness” on the other hand, refers to moral likeness and “depends” on each individuals moral choice and human effort (219).  To become more and more like God is to become more and more deified or “assimilated to God through virtue” (219).  The deified person has become a “second god” or “a god by grace” (219).  As the Scripture says: “You are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6).  Disease and death are a result of human sin.  The human will is weakened and enfeebled by what Greeks call “desire” (Western theologians call this “concupiscence”), but humanity is not thereby entirely “deprived” of God’s grace.  Rather, after the fall grace works on the human from “outside” rather than from the “inside” (223).  The Orthodox disagree with Augustine’s belief that after the fall humans loose their “freedom” and sin by a necessity due to a “sin nature” (223).  To Orthodox, this would seem to contradict human free-will and deny humanity of the “image” of God.  Furthermore, babies do not inherit the “guilt” of Adam, only his mortality and corruption.  Guilt is not inherited, but humans are guilty inasmuch as they imitate Adam (224).

The Incarnation

Whereas the West tends to view the incarnation as necessary only because of The Fall, Orthodoxy believes that the incarnation is the logical outworking of God’s philanthropia: his loving desire to be united with humanity.  God would still have become incarnate even if there was no fall of the human race into sin.  Ware also wants to cast doubt on the common “assertion that the East concentrates on the Risen Christ, the West on Christ crucified” (227).  Ware believes that “representations of the Crucifixion are no less prominent in Orthodox than in non-Orthodox churches,” but the Orthodox do not separate the glory of Christ from his crucifixion and tend to hold in contrast “His outward humiliation and His inward glory” (226-27).  Even the crucified Christ is “Christ the Victor” (228).  “The western worshipper, when he meditates upon the Cross, is encouraged all to often to feel an emotional sympathy with the Man of Sorrows, rather than to adore the victorious and triumphant king” (228).

The Holy Spirit

Whereas Western theology tends to have an inexcusably underdeveloped doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Eastern theology “lays great stress upon the work of the Holy Spirit” (230).  In a sense, the Eastern theologians consider the sending of the Holy Spirit as the ultimate aim of the incarnation, and the entire Christian life is “nothing else than the acquisition of the Holy Spirit” (230).  This acquisition is a human participation in God; it is deification; it is theosis; it is salvation; it is redemption.  Christians are called to “participate in the divine nature” according to 2 Peter 1:4.  “The human being does not become God by nature, but is merely a ‘created god,’ a god by grace or by status” (232).  Practically speaking, this takes place to the degree that the human will is conformed to the philanthropic will of God; it takes place to the degree that the human will loves God and others (232).  Our “full deification,” however, will take place at the Resurrection when our bodies too will become “deified” as the glorified body of Christ (233).  The two-dimensional icons of glorified saints in the Orthodox Church depict this final glorification, and remind Orthodox Christians of the redemption of all creation (234).  The Orthodox belief in cosmic redemption is what fuels their “increasing concern about the pollution of the environment” (235).  The maxim of St. Silouan of Mount Athos sums this concern up this way: “The heart that has learnt to love has pity for all creation” (235).

Ware suggests six points of clarification necessary for not misunderstanding the doctrine of deification.

1. Deification is not for certain Christians, but all Christians.

2. Deification presupposes a continual repentance (and therefore the presence of sin)

3. The methods for deification are not eccentric:

a. Go to church

b. Receive the sacraments regularly

c. Pray to God in “spirit and truth”

d. Read the Gospels

e. Follow the commandments

4. Deification is a “social process” for it involves loving one’s neighbor.

5. Love for God and neighbor must “issue in action.”

6. Deification presupposes the life of the church.

The Church

There are many similarities between Orthodox ecclesiology and Catholic ecclesiology.  Orthodoxy insists on hierarchical structure, Apostolic succession, the episcopate, the priesthood, prayer to the saints and intercession for “the departed” (239).  However, whereas the Catholic church believes in papal infallibility, the Orthodox “stress the infallibility of the Church as a whole” (239).  Ware also adds that “to the Orthodox it often seems like Rome envisages the Church too much in terms of earthly power and organization” (239).  Orthodox ecclesiology, while having “many strict and minute rules, as anyone who reads the Canons can quickly discover,” nevertheless is more mystical and thinks of the church more in terms of its relationship to God (240).

Ware summarizes the Orthodox doctrine of the church in three major points.  The Church is 1) the Image of the Holy Trinity, 2) the Body of Christ, and 3) a continued Pentecost (240).

1) That the church is an “image” of the Trinity means at least two things.  First, this is because the church consists of many persons united in one, yet each retaining their own unique personhood.  Second, this also means that just as in the Trinity all three persons are equal, “so in the Church no one bishop can claim to wield an absolute power over all the rest; yet, just as in the Trinity the Father enjoys pre-eminence as source and fountainhead of the deity, so within the Church the Pope is ‘first among equals’” (241).

2) That the church is “the body of Christ,” means “the church is the extension of the Incarnation, the place where the incarnation perpetuates itself” (241).  The Church is the “organ” of Christ’s redeeming work, prophetic utterance, priestly ministry, and kingly power (241).  Christ has promised his “perpetual presence” in the Church.  In Orthodox ecclesiology, this is especially the case in the sacraments.  The Church exists “in its fullness” wherever the Eucharist is celebrated (242).  “The Church must be thought of primarily in sacramental terms,” that is, “it’s outward organization, however important, is secondary to its sacramental life” (242).

3) The Church is a continual Pentecost because the Spirit continues to give himself to the Church.  Irenaeus wrote “where the Church is, there is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is the Church” (242).  The gift of the Spirit is given to the church, but also “appropriated by each in her or his own way,” making the gift of the Holy Spirit very personal (242).  The Church is therefore a place of diversity and variety, yet a precisely because it is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, it is also unified.  The Church is the true Holy University (my words, not Ware’s)—united by the Holy Spirit, yet diversely gifted by the Holy Spirit.

This Church is also both invisible and visible, divine and human.  It is invisible because it includes all the saints of history and the angels.  It is visible because it consists of specific congregations worshipping on earth.  It is human and its members are sinners; yet it is divine for it is the Body of Christ (243).  While the West has grown accustomed to distinguishing between the visible and invisible church, the Orthodox does not separate these two, “for the two make up a single and continuous reality” (243).  The visible church and the invisible church are the very same church.  Finally, in Orthodox theology, one can say that individual members of the Church are sinners, but one cannot therefore say that The Church sins, for it is the sinless Body of Christ.

Human sin cannot affect the essential nature of the Church.  We must not say that because Christians on earth sin and are imperfect, therefore the Church sins and is imperfect; for the Church, even on earth, is a thing of heaven, and cannot sin.  … St. Ephraim of Syria rightly spoke … ‘The mystery of the Church consists in the very fact that together sinners become something different from what they are as individuals; this ‘something different’ is the Body of Christ.’ (244).

The Orthodox believe that the unity of the Church “follows of necessity from the unity of God” (245).  “There is only one Christ, and so there can be only one Body of Christ.  Nor is this unity merely ideal and invisible” because, as we have seen, for the Orthodox the visible and invisible church are the same church.  The “undivided church” is not something that existed only at the early stages of Christianity and something we hope to attain in the future.  It is a present reality in the here and now.  On earth, it exists in a “visible community” (245).  Therefore, the Orthodox Church admits of no schism within the church, only schisms from the Church.

For Catholicism, the Pope is the “unifying principle” of the Church, but for Orthodoxy, the unifying principle is sacramental communion (246).  “The act of communion therefore forms the criterion for membership of the Church” (246).  In case the reader has not figured it out by this point, Ware explicitly spells out the implication of this aspect of Orthodox ecclesiology: “Orthodoxy, believing that the Church on earth has remained and must remain visibly one, naturally also believes itself to be that one visible Church” (246).  The Orthodox Church, according to Orthodox ecclesiology, is not just the “real” Church or the “right” church—it’s the only Church.  Ware speaks with a tone of disapproval for Orthodox theologians who “sometimes speak as if they accepted the ‘Branch Theory’” that allows for different branches of the Church (e.g. Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, etc.).  Therefore, it is visibly one and there are no divisions within the Church.  Ware’s comment that this will probably seem a bit “arrogant” is a humorous and delicate understatement.

Nor is this all.  “Orthodoxy also teaches that outside the Church there is no salvation (Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus).  For Orthodoxy this statement is redundant; a tautology.  Ware explains: “Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church” (247).  Does this mean Catholics and Protestants are outside salvation?  Ware answers this question as if the answer were obvious, but he gives a surprising answer: “Of course not” (247).  This takes some careful explaining:

As Augustine wisely remarked, “How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!”  While there is no division between a “visible” and an “indivisible Church,” yet there may be members of the Church who are not visibly such, but whose membership is known to God alone.  If anyone is saved, he must in some sense be a member of the Church; in what sense, we cannot always say.

But Ware’s attempt to explain his surprising answer does not resolve the obvious tension.  If the Orthodox Church is the only church, and the unity of the Church is visible, then the question of how one can be considered a member of the Orthodox Church who does not belong to this visible Church (i.e. those who do not have sacramental communion in an Orthodox Church) is indeed a grand mystery.  Furthermore, whoever the Orthodox think these secret members of the Church are, they must certainly not be Catholics or Protestants, for the Orthodox believe that if they alone convened a general council (excluding Catholics and Protestants), it would be a true Ecumenical Council with the same authority of the first seven Councils.

Book Review (pt. 2): The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware: Orthodox Tradition

The following is part 2 in my Book Review of:

Ware, Timothy (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia).  The Orthodox Church, 3rd Edition.  New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1993. 359 pp.

For the whole review, you can click here for the PDF version, or go here for the podcast audio version.

Orthodox Tradition

The Orthodox accept all ecumenical councils as “infallible” and desire to protect primitive beliefs and practices of the church.  However, only the first seven major councils are considered truly “ecumenical.”  Although Catholics went on to have more councils the Catholic Tradition would consider “ecumenical,” the Orthodox do not recognize them as ecumenical at all, and therefore do not recognize them as authoritative.

The Orthodox often consider the “apparent changelessness” of the Orthodox Church as one of its distinct characteristics: its “air of antiquity” and faithful continuation of the ancient practices of the church (195).  According to Ware, this is also partly why some of the Orthodox fall into an “extreme conservatism” and fail to distinguish between Tradition and traditions (198).  The “outward forms” that express the Orthodox Tradition include the Bible, the seven ecumenical councils (the Creed), later councils, The Fathers, the Liturgy, Canon Law, and Icons.

The Bible is honored and venerated as authoritative within the Orthodox Church, but not over the Orthodox Church.  Within the Orthodox Church, Scripture is considered God’s supreme revelation (199).  Therefore, its teaching has authority.  However, “it is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture” (199, italics added).  Individual readers will inevitably interpret the Bible as they read it, but individual interpreters will always be “in danger of error” if they do not accept the authoritative guidance of the larger Orthodox Church.  Unless an individual’s interpretation is accepted by the broader church, it is not authoritative.  In this way, “it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority” (199).  Furthermore, the Orthodox Church does not dichotomize Scripture and Tradition, for they see Scripture as itself a part of Tradition.

It would be an understatement to say that Orthodox biblical interpretation is heavily influenced by the readings of the Septuagint: the Septuagint translation is considered “inspired of the Holy Spirit” and therefore constitutes God’s “continuing revelation” (200).  This also means the ten additional books of the Septuagint are part of the Orthodox canon, although Ware concedes that many Orthodox scholars now consider the Deutero-Canonical Books of the Septuagint as “on a lower footing than the rest of the Old Testament” (200).  Although Orthodox scholars have not enjoyed a prominent role in the critical-historical study of the Bible, Ware assures his readers that Orthodoxy “does not forbid” such study (201).

Even if all the doctrinal definitions of the seven ecumenical councils are “infallible,” the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is the cornerstone of all the creeds, surpassing all subsequent creeds in its importance (202).  Orthodox theology is also heavily influenced by subsequent definitions of certain local councils and letters or statements of faith written by certain influential bishops.  Ware conveniently lists the most important of these, sometimes called the “Symbolical Books” (203).

While the theology of the Fathers produced the first seven ecumenical councils, “as with local councils, so with the Fathers, the judgment of the Church is selective” and “Patristic wheat needs to be distinguished from Patristic chaff” (204).  The Orthodox do, however, see a consistency of mind in the Fathers.  This they call the “Patristic mind” (204).  Although there is a particular reverence for writers of the early church—especially the fourth century Fathers—“the Orthodox Church has never attempted to define exactly who the Fathers are,” so Ware is optimistic that unless God has “deserted the church,” more Fathers will come (204).  The most recent “Father” mentioned by Ware, however, was the fourteenth century Saint: Mark of Ephesus (the one who refused to sign the Florentine Union document).

Ware claims that “other parts of Tradition do not have quite the same authority” as Scripture, the Creed and the Ecumenical Councils (197). When speaking of the Liturgy, however, he emphasizes that certain doctrines that the Orthodox express in their worship can be “just as binding as an explicit formulation,” even thought they have never been defined or proclaimed as dogma by Orthodoxy (197, 204).  The maxim Lex orandi lex credendi [our faith is expressed in our prayer] is particularly applicable here.  Orthodoxy has made very few dogmatic statements, for example, about “the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, about the next world, the Mother of God, the saints, and the faithful departed,” even though their services and the Liturgy reflect these beliefs (205).

Protestants often appreciate the theological definitions of the early councils, but Orthodox take the ecclesiastical declarations with a similar seriousness.  Declarations of the ecumenical councils dealing with Church organization and governance are called canons.  Certain writers compiled these canons, along with other local canons, and wrote explanations and commentaries.  Today, the commentary of St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (1800) known as the Pedalion [“Rudder”] is the standard Greek commentary on canon law.  Although much of this ancient canon law is outdated and out of use, if and when a new general council of the Orthodox meets (which so many Orthodox despair will never happen), Ware hopes they will “revise” and “clarify” (read: update) Canon Law (205).

The Orthodox Church’s devotion to the veneration of two-dimensional icons is perhaps one of her most striking features.  The Orthodox consider them as means to attain to “a vision of the spiritual world” (206). God can be revealed through art, yet because the Holy Icons are an expression of Tradition, “icon painters are not free to adapt or innovate as they please” but only within the limitations of “certain prescribed rules” (206).  Their art cannot be a mere reflection of the artists ascetic sentiments but “must reflect the mind of the church” (206).

Audio Book Review: The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware

Here is part 1 and 2 of the audio version of my book review of The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware.  You will find that on part 1 the audio volume fluctuates.  This was because I accidently had my condenser microphone on a special auto setting.  You can still listen and enjoy, but you may find yourself having to adjust the volume at different parts of the review.

Ware, Timothy (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia). The Orthodox Church, 3rd Editition. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1993. 359pp.

Part 1: Introduction and History of the Orthodox Church

Part 2: Orthodox Tradition and Theology; Criticism and Conclusion

The West is a Theological Ghetto

My good friend Celucien Joseph talks about how theology in the West has incredibly narrow scope.  I give an except below, but for the rest of the post go here.  

I begin this paragraph with this proposition: it is fair to state that Christian Theology as a discipline, and particularly the fields of biblical studies are dominated by European descent individuals, who make interpretive decisions for “other groups” as if they are the Guardian of the Word. It is a common already presumed that European hermeneutics is the best of its kind. Let’s say it another way, consciously and unknowingly, Christian dogma has been kidnapped by Western thought, and largely designed and conditioned to advance Western culture and values, with little regard to non-western societies. We might also state, by context, it is also presupposed that Christianity is Western. 

(HT: Christ, My Righteousness)

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