"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Monday, 27 April 2015


This article by Father Georges Florovsky should be frequently pondered over and prayed over and reverently digested by Catholics and Orthodox alike.  For us Latins, it is the perfect expression of the basic principles of ressourcement theology, called in my day, "kerygmatic theology".  It is so important for the understanding of Vatican II, is the spirit behind the eucharistic prayers in the post-Vatican II liturgy, as well as being an inspiration to many Catholic and Orthodox theologians in the last hundred years, though in different contexts, and is the pre-supposition behind modern Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.
In this post, I shall leave you to read Father Florovsky's article without interruption and then write a commentary, showing how the same principles have been used in East and West in modern times.

   Following the Fathers...

"Following THE HOLY FATHERS" ... It was usual in the Ancient Church to introduce doctrinal statements by phrases like this. The Decree of Chalcedon opens precisely with these very words. The Seventh Ecumenical Council introduces its decision concerning the Holy Icons in a more elaborate way: "Following the Divinely inspired teaching of the Holy Fathers and the Tradition of the Catholic Church." The didaskalia of the Fathers is the formal and normative term of reference.

Now, this was much more than just an "appeal to antiquity." Indeed, the Church always stresses the permanence of her faith through the ages, from the very beginning. This identity, since the Apostolic times, is the most conspicuous sign and token of right faith-always the same. Yet, "antiquity" by itself is not an adequate proof of the true faith. Moreover, the Christian message was obviously a striking novelty" for the "ancient world," and, indeed, a call to radical "renovation." The "Old" has passed away, and everything has been "made New." On the other hand, heresies could also appeal to the past and invoke the authority of certain "traditions." In fact, heresies were often lingering in the past. [1] Archaic formulas can often be dangerously misleading. Vincent of Lerins himself was fully aware of this danger. It would suffice to quote this pathetic passage of his: "And now, what an amazing reversal of the situation  the authors of the same opinion are adjudged to be catholics, but the followers-heretics; the masters are absolved, the disciples are condemned; the writers of the books will be children of the Kingdom, their followers will go to Gehenna" (Commonitorium, cap. 6). Vincent had in mind, of course, St. Cyprian and the Donatists. St. Cyprian himself faced the same situation. "Antiquity" as such may happen to be Just an inveterate prejudice: nam antiquitas sine veritate vetustas erroris est (Epist. 74). It is to say—"old customs" as such do not guarantee the truth. "Truth" is not just a "habit."

The true tradition is only the tradition of truth, traditio veritatis. This tradition, according of St. Irenaeus, is grounded in, and secured by, that charisma veritatis certum [secure charisma of truth], which has been "deposited" in the Church from the very beginning and has been preserved by the uninterrupted succession of episcopal ministry. "Tradition" in the Church is not a continuity of human memory, or a permanence of rites and habits. It is a living tradition—depositum juvenescens, in the phrase of St. Irenaeus. Accordingly, it cannot be counted inter mortuas regulas [among dead rules]. Ultimately, tradition is a continuity of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a continuity of Divine guidance and illumination. The Church is not bound by the "letter." Rather, she is constantly moved forth by the "Spirit." The same Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, which "spake through the Prophets," which guided the Apostles, is still continuously guiding the Church into the fuller comprehension and understanding of the Divine truth, from glory to glory.

"Following the Holy Fathers"… This is not a reference to some abstract tradition, in formulas and propositions. It is primarily an appeal to holy witnesses. Indeed, we appeal to the Apostles, and not just to an abstract "Apostolicity." In the similar manner do we refer to the Fathers. The witness of the Fathers belongs, intrinsically and integrally, to the very structure of Orthodox belief. The Church is equally committed to the kerygma of the Apostles and to the dogma of the Fathers. We may quote at this point an admirable ancient hymn (probably, from the pen of St. Romanus the Melode). "Preserving the kerygma of the Apostles and the dogmas of the Fathers, the Church has sealed the one faith and wearing the tunic of truth she shapes rightly the brocade of heavenly theology and praises the great mystery of piety." [2]

The Mind of the Fathers

The Church is "Apostolic" indeed. But the Church is also "Patristic." She is intrinsically "the Church of the Fathers." These two "notes" cannot be separated. Only by being "Patristic" is the Church truly "Apostolic." The witness of the Fathers is much more than simply a historic feature, a voice from the past. Let us quote another hymn from the office of the Three Hierarchs. "By the word of knowledge you have composed the dogmas which the fisher men have established first in simple words, in knowledge by the power of the Spirit, for thus our simple piety had to acquire composition." There are, as it were, two basic stages in the proclamation of the Christian faith. "Our simple faith had to acquire composition." There was an inner urge, an inner logic, an internal necessity, in this transition from kerygma to dogma. Indeed, the teaching of the Fathers, and the dogma of the Church, are still the same "simple message" which has been once delivered and deposited, once for ever, by the Apostles. But now it is, as it were, properly and fully articulated. The Apostolic preaching is kept alive in the Church, not only merely preserved. In this sense, the teaching of the Fathers is a permanent category of Christian existence, a constant and ultimate measure and criterion of right faith. Fathers are not only witnesses of the old faith, testes antiquitatis. They are rather witnesses of the true faith, testes veritatis. "The mind of the Fathers" is an intrinsic term of reference in Orthodox theology, no less than the word of Holy Scripture, and indeed never separated from it. As it has been well said, "the Catholic Church of all ages is not merely a daughter of the Church of the Fathers—she is and remains the Church of the Fathers." [3]

The Existential Character of Patristic Theology

The main distinctive mark of Patristic theology was its existential" character, if we may use this current neologism. The Fathers theologized, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus put it, "in the manner of the Apostles, not in that of Aristotle—alieutikos, ouk aristotelikos (Hom. 23. 12). Their theology was still a "message," a kerygma. Their theology was still "kerygmatic theology," even if it was often logically arranged and supplied with intellectual arguments. The ultimate reference was still to the vision of faith, to spiritual knowledge and experience. Apart from life in Christ theology carries no conviction and, if separated from the life of faith, theology may degenerate into empty dialectics, a vain polylogia, without any spiritual consequence. Patristic theology was existentially rooted in the decisive commitment of faith. It was not a self-explanatory "discipline" which could be presented argumentatively, that is aristotelikos, without any prior spiritual engagement. In the age of theological strife and incessant debates, the great Cappadocian Fathers formally protested against the use of dialectics, of "Aristotelian syllogisms," and endeavoured to refer theology back to the vision of faith. Patristic theology could be only preached" or "proclaimed"—preached from the pulpit, proclaimed also in the words of prayer and in the sacred rites, and indeed manifested in the total structure of Christian life. Theology of this kind can never be separated from the life of prayer and from the exercise of virtue. "The climax of purity is the beginning of theology," as St. John the Klimakos puts it: Telos de hagneias hypotheosis theologias (Scala Paradisi, grade 30).

On the other hand, theology of this type is always, as it were, "propaideutic," since its ultimate aim and purpose is to ascertain and to acknowledge the Mystery of the Living God, and indeed to bear witness to it, in word and deed. "Theology" is not an end in itself. It is always but a way. Theology, and even the "dogmas," present no more than an "intellectual contour" of the revealed truth, and a "noetic" testimony to it. Only in the act of faith is this "contour" filled with content. Christological formulas are fully meaningful only for those who have encountered the Living Christ, and have received and acknowledged Him as God and Saviour, and are dwelling by faith in Him, in His body, the Church. In this sense, theology is never a self-explanatory discipline. It is constantly appealing to the vision of faith. "What we have seen and have heard we announce to you." Apart from this "announcement" theological formulas are empty and of no consequence. For the same reason these formulas can never be taken "abstractly," that is, out of total context of belief. It is misleading to single out particular statements of the Fathers and to detach them from the total perspective in which they have been actually uttered, just as it is misleading to manipulate with detached quotations from the Scripture. It is a dangerous habit "to quote" the Fathers, that is, their isolated sayings and phrases, outside of that concrete setting in which only they have their full and proper meaning and are truly alive. "To follow" the Fathers does not mean just "to quote" them. "To follow" the Fathers means to acquire their "mind," their phronema.

The Meaning of the "Age" of the Fathers

Now, we have reached the crucial point. The name of "Church Fathers" is usually restricted to the teachers of the Ancient Church. And it is currently assumed that their authority depends upon their "antiquity," upon their comparative nearness to the "Primitive Church," to the initial "Age" of the Church. Already St. Jerome had to contest this idea. Indeed, there was no decrease of "authority," and no decrease in the immediacy of spiritual competence and knowledge, in the course of Christian history. In fact, however, this idea of "decrease" has strongly affected our modern theological thinking. In fact, it is too often assumed, consciously or unconsciously, that the Early Church was, as it were, closer to the spring of truth. As an admission of our own failure and inadequacy, as an act of humble self-criticism, such an assumption is sound and helpful. But it is dangerous to make of it the starting point or basis of our "theology of Church history," or even of our theology of the Church. Indeed, the Age of the Apostles should retain its unique position. Yet, it was just a beginning. It is widely assumed that the "Age of the Fathers" has also ended, and accordingly it is regarded just as an ancient formation, "antiquated" in a sense and "archaic." The limit of the "Patristic Age" is variously defined. It is usual to regard St. John of Damascus as the "last Father" in the East, and St. Gregory the Dialogos or Isidore of Seville as "the last" in the West. This periodization has been justly contested in recent times. Should not, for instance, St. Theodore of Studium, at least, be included among "the Fathers"? Mabillon has suggested that Bernard of Clairvaux, the Doctor mellifluous, was "the last of the Fathers, and surely not unequal to the earlier ones." [4] Actually, it is more than a question of periodization. From the Western point of view "the Age of the Fathers" has been succeeded, and indeed superseded, by "the Age of the Schoolmen," which was an essential step forward. Since the rise of Scholasticism "Patristic theology" has been antiquated, has become actually a "past age," a kind of archaic prelude. This point of view, legitimate for the West, has been, most unfortunately, accepted also by many in the East, blindly and uncritically. Accordingly, one has to face the alternative. Either one has to regret the "backwardness" of the East which never developed any "Scholasticism" of its own. Or one should retire into the "Ancient Age," in a more or less archeological manner, and practice what has been wittily described recently as a "theology of repetition." The latter, in fact, is just a peculiar form of imitative "scholasticism."

Now, it is not seldom suggested that, probably, "the Age of the Fathers" has ended much earlier than St. John of Damascus. Very often one does not proceed further than the Age of Justinian, or even already the Council of Chalcedon. Was not Leontius of Byzantium already "the first of the Scholastics"? Psychologically, this attitude is quite comprehensible, although it cannot be theologically justified. Indeed, the Fathers of the Fourth century are much more impressive, and their unique greatness cannot be denied. Yet, the Church remained fully alive also after Nicea and Chalcedon. The current overemphasis on the "first five centuries" dangerously distorts theological vision, and prevents the right understanding of the Chalcedonian dogma itself. The decree of the Sixth Ecumenical Council is often regarded as a kind of an "appendix" to Chalcedon, interesting only for theological specialists, and the great figure of St. Maximus the Confessor is almost completely ignored. Accordingly, the theological significance of the Seventh Ecumenical Council is dangerously obscured, and one is left to wonder, why the Feast of Orthodoxy should be related to the commemoration of the Church's victory over the Iconoclasts. Was it not just a "ritualistic controversy"? We often forget that the famous formula of the Consensus quinquesaecularis [agreement of five centuries], that is, actually, up to Chalcedon, was a Protestant formula, and reflected a peculiar Protestant "theology of history." It was a restrictive formula, as much as it seemed to be too inclusive to those who wanted to be secluded in the Apostolic Age. The point is, however, that the current Eastern formula of "the Seven Ecumenical Councils" is hardly much better, if it tends, as it usually does, to restrict or to limit the Church's spiritual authority to the first eight centuries, as if "the Golden Age" of Christianity has already passed and we are now, probably, already in an Iron Age, much lower on the scale of spiritual vigour and authority. Our theological thinking has been dangerously affected by the pattern of decay, adopted for the interpretation of Christian history in the West since the Reformation. The fullness of the Church was then interpreted in a static manner, and the attitude to Antiquity has been accordingly distorted and misconstrued. After all, it does not make much difference, whether we restrict the normative authority of the Church to one century, or to five, or to eight. There should he no restriction at all. Consequently, there is no room for any "theology of repetition." The Church is still fully authoritative as she has been in the ages past, since the Spirit of Truth quickens her now no less effectively as in the ancient times.

The Legacy of Byzantine Theology

One of the immediate results of our careless periodization is that we simply ignore the legacy of Byzantine theology. We are prepared, now more than only a few decades ago, to admit the perennial authority of "the Fathers," especially since the revival of Patristic studies in the West. But we still tend to limit the scope of admission, and obviously "Byzantine theologians" are not readily counted among the "Fathers." We are inclined to discriminate rather rigidly between "Patristics"—in a more or less narrow sense—and "Byzantinism." We are still inclined to regard "Byzantinism" as an inferior sequel to the Patristic Age. We have still doubts about its normative relevance for theological thinking. Now, Byzantine theology was much more than just a "repetition" of Patristic theology, nor was that which was new in it of an inferior quality in comparison with "Christian Antiquity." Indeed, Byzantine theology was an organic continuation of the Patristic Age. Was there any break? Has the ethos of the Eastern Orthodox Church been ever changed, at a certain historic point or date, which, however, has never been unanimously identified, so that the "later" development was of lesser authority and importance, if of any? This admission seems to be silently implied in the restrictive commitment to theSeven Ecumenical Councils. Then, St. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Gregory Palamas are simply left out, and the great Hesychast Councils of the fourteenth century are ignored and forgotten. What is their position and authority in the Church?

Now, in fact, St. Symeon and St. Gregory are still authoritative masters and inspirers of all those who, in the Orthodox Church, are striving after perfection, and are living the life of prayer and contemplation, whether in the surviving monastic communities, or in the solitude of the desert, and even in the world. These faithful people are not aware of any alleged "break" between "Patristics" and "Byzantinism." The Philokalia, this great encyclopaedia of Eastern piety, which includes writings of many centuries, is, in our own days, increasingly becoming the manual of guidance and instruction for all those who are eager to practice Orthodoxy in our contemporary situation. The authority of its compiler, St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mount, has been recently recognized and enhanced by his formal canonization in the Church. In this sense, we are bound to say, "the Age of the Fathers" still continues in "the Worshipping Church." Should it not continue also in our theological pursuit and study, research and instruction? Should we not recover "the mind of the Fathers" also in our theological thinking and teaching? To recover it, indeed, not as an archaic manner or pose, and not just as a venerable relic, but as an existential attitude, as a spiritual orientation. Only in this way can our theology be reintegrated into the fullness of our Christian existence. It is not enough to keep a "Byzantine Liturgy," as we do, to restore Byzantine iconography and Byzantine music, as we are still reluctant to do consistently, and to practice certain Byzantine modes of devotion. One has to go to the very roots of this traditional "piety," and to recover the "Patristic mind . Otherwise we may be in danger of being inwardly split—as many in our midst actually are—between the "traditional" forms of "piety" and a very untraditional habit of theological thinking. It is a real danger. As "worshippers" we are still in "the tradition of the Fathers." Should we not stand, conscientiously and avowedly, in the same tradition also as "theologians," as witnesses and teachers of Orthodoxy? Can we retain our integrity in any other way?

St. Gregory Palamas and Theosis

All these preliminary considerations are highly relevant for our immediate purpose. What is the theological legacy of St. Gregory Palamas? St. Gregory was not a speculative theologian. He was a monk and a bishop. He was not concerned about abstract problems of philosophy, although he was well trained in this field too. He was concerned solely with problems of Christian existence. As a theologian, he was simply an interpreter of the spiritual experience of the Church. Almost all his writings, except probably his homilies, were occasional writings. He was wrestling with the problems of his own time. And it was a critical time, an age of controversy and anxiety. Indeed, it was also an age of spiritual renewal.

St. Gregory was suspected of subversive innovations by his enemies in his own time. This charge is still maintained against him in the West. In fact, however, St. Gregory was deeply rooted in tradition. It is not difficult to trace most of his views and motives back to the Cappadocian Fathers and to St. Maximus the Confessor, who was, by the way, one of the most popular masters of Byzantine thought and devotion. Indeed, St. Gregory was also intimately acquainted with the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. He was rooted in the tradition. Yet, in no sense was his theology just a "theology of repetition." It was a creative extension of ancient tradition. Its starting point was Life in Christ.

Of all themes of St. Gregory's theology let us single out but one, the crucial one, and the most controversial. What is the basic character of Christian existence? The ultimate aim and purpose of human life was defined in the Patristic tradition as theosis [divinization]. The term is rather offensive for the modern ear. It cannot be adequately rendered in any modern language, nor even in Latin. Even in Greek it is rather heavy and pretentious. Indeed, it is a daring word. The meaning of the word is, however, simple and lucid. It was one of the crucial terms in the Patristic vocabulary. It would suffice to quote at this point but St. Athanasius. Gegonen gar anthropos, hin hemas en heauto theopoiese. [He became man in order to divinize us in Himself (Ad Adelphium 4)]. Autos gar enenthropesen, hina hemeis theopoiethomen. [He became man in order that we might be divinized (De Incarnatione 54)]. St. Athanasius actually resumes here the favourite idea of St. Irenaeus: qui propter immensam dilectionem suam factus est quod sumus nos, uti nos perficeret esse quod est ipse. [Who, through his immense love became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself (Adv. Haeres. V, Praefatio)]. It was the common conviction of the Greek Fathers. One can quote at length St. Gregory of Nazianzus. St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Maximus, and indeed St. Symeon the New Theologian. Man ever remains what he is, that is, creature. But he is promised and granted, in Christ Jesus, the Word become man, an intimate sharing in what is Divine: Life Everlasting and incorruptible. The main characteristic of theosis is, according to the Fathers, precisely "immortality" or "incorruption." For God alone "has immortality"—ho monos echon athanasian (I Tim. 6:16). But man now is admitted into an intimate "communion" with God, through Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is much more than just a 'moral" communion, and much more than just a human perfection. Only the wordtheosis can render adequately the uniqueness of the promise and offer. The term theosis is indeed quite embarrassing, if we would think in "ontological" categories. Indeed, man simply cannot "become" god. But the Fathers were thinking in "personal" terms, and the mystery ofpersonal communion was involved at this point. Theosis meant a personal encounter. It is that intimate intercourse of man with God, in which the whole of human existence is, as it were, permeated by the Divine Presence. [5]

Yet, the problem remains: How can even this intercourse be compatible with the Divine Transcendance? And this is the crucial point. Does man really encounter God, in this present life on earth? Does man encounter God, truly and verily, in his present life of prayer? Or, is there no more than an actio in distans? The common claim of the Eastern Fathers was that in his devotional ascent man actually encounters God and beholds His eternal Glory. Now, how is it possible, if God "abides in the light unapproachable"? The paradox was especially sharp in the Eastern theology, which has been always committed to the belief that God was absolutely "incomprehensible"—akataleptos—and unknowable in His nature or essence. This conviction was powerfully expressed by the Cappadocian Fathers, especially in their struggle against Eunomius, and also by St. John Chrysostom, in his magnificent discourses Peri Akataleptou. Thus, if God is absolutely "unapproachable" in His essence, and accordingly His essence simply cannot be "communicated," how can theosis be possible at all? "One insults God who seeks to apprehend His essential being," says Chrysostom. Already in St. Athanasius we find a clear distinction between God's very "essence" and His powers and bounty: Kai en pasi men esti kata ten heautou agathoteta, exo de ton panton palin esti kata ten idian physin. [He is in everything by his love, but outside of everything by his own nature (De Decretis II)]. The same conception was carefully elaborated by the Cappadocians. The "essence of God" is absolutely inaccessible to man, says St. Basil (Adv. Eunomium 1:14). We know God only in His actions, and by His actions: Hemeis de ek men ton energeion gnorizein legomen ton Theon hemon, te de ousia prosengizein ouch hypischnoumetha hai men gar energeiai autou pros hemas katabainousin, he de ousia autou menei aprositos. [We say that we know our God from his energies (activities), but we do not profess to approach his essence—for his energies descend to us, but his essence remains inaccessible (Epist. 234, ad Amphilochium)]. Yet, it is a true knowledge, not just a conjecture or deduction:hai energeiai autou pros hemas katabainousin. In the phrase of St. John of Damascus, these actions or "energies" of God are the true revelation of God Himself: he theia ellampsis kai energeia (De Fide Orth. 1: 14). It is a real presence, and not merely a certain praesentia operativa, sicut agens adest ei in quod agit [as the actor is present in the thing in which he acts]. This mysterious mode of Divine Presence, in spite of the absolute transcendence of the Divine Essence, passes all understanding. But it is no less certain for that reason.

St. Gregory Palamas stands in an ancient tradition at this point. In His "energies" the Unapproachable God mysteriously approaches man. And this Divine move effects encounter: proodos eis ta exo, in the phrase of St. Maximus (Scholia in De Div. Nom., 1: 5).

St. Gregory begins with the distinction between "grace" and "essence": he theia kai theopoios ellampsis kai charis ouk ousia, all’ energeia estiTheou [the Divine and Divinizing illumination and grace is not the essence, but the energy of God; Capita Phys., Theol., etc., 68-9]. This basic distinction was formally accepted and elaborated at the Great Councils in Constantinople, 1341 and 1351. Those who would deny this distinction were anathematized and excommunicated. The anathematisms of the council of 651 were included in the rite for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, in the Triodion. Orthodox theologians are bound by this decision. The essence of God is absolutely amethekte [incommunicable]. The source and the power of human theosis is not the Divine essence, but the "Grace of God": theopoios energeia, hes ta metechonta theountai, theia tis esti charis, all’ ouch he physis tou theou [the divinizing energy, by participation of which one is divinized, is a divine grace, but in no way the essence of God; ibid. 92-3]. Charis is not identical with the ousia. It is theia kai aktistos charis kai energeia [Divine and uncreated Grace and Energy; ibid., 69]. This distinction, however, does not imply or effect division or separation. Nor is it just an "accident," oute symbebekotos (ibid., 127). Energies "proceed" from God and manifest His own Being. The term proienai [proceed] simply suggests diakrisin [distinction], but not a division: ei kai dienenoche tes physeos, ou diaspatai he tou Pneumatos charis [the grace of the Spirit is different from the Substance, and yet not separated from it; Theophan, p. 940].

Actually the whole teaching of St. Gregory presupposes the action of the Personal God. God moves toward man and embraces him by His own "grace" and action, without leaving that phos aprositon [light unapproachable], in which He eternally abides. The ultimate purpose of St. Gregory's theological teaching was to defend the reality of Christian experience. Salvation is more than forgiveness. It is a genuine renewal of man. And this renewal is effected not by the discharge, or release, of certain natural energies implied in man's own creaturely being, but by the "energies" of God Himself, who thereby encounters and encompasses man, and admits him into communion with Himself. In fact, the teaching of St. Gregory affects the whole system of theology, the whole body of Christian doctrine. It starts with the clear distinction between "nature" and "will" of God. This distinction was also characteristic of the Eastern tradition, at least since St. Athanasius. It may be asked at this point: Is this distinction compatible with the "simplicity" of God? Should we not rather regard all these distinctions as merely logical conjectures, necessary for us, but ultimately without any ontological significance? As a matter of fact, St. Gregory Palamas was attacked by his opponents precisely from that point of view. God's Being is simple, and in Him even all attributes coincide. Already St. Augustine diverged at this point from the Eastern tradition. Under Augustinian presuppositions the teaching of St. Gregory is unacceptable and absurd. St. Gregory himself anticipated the width of implications of his basic distinction. If one does not accept it, he argued, then it would be impossible to discern clearly between the "generation" of the Son and "creation" of the world, both being the acts of essence, and this would lead to utter confusion in the Trinitarian doctrine. St. Gregory was quite formal at that point.

    If according to the delirious opponents and those who agree with them, the Divine energy in no way differs from the Divine essence, then the act of creating, which belongs to the will, will in no way differ from generation (gennan) and procession (ekporeuein), which belong to the essence. If to create is no different from generation and procession, then the creatures will in no way differ from the Begotten (gennematos) and the Projected (problematos). If such is the case according to them, then both the Son of God and the Holy Spirit will be no different from creatures, and the creatures will all be both the begotten (gennemata) and the projected (problemata) of God the Father, and creation will be deified and God will be arrayed with the creatures. For this reason the venerable Cyril, showing the difference between God's essence and energy, says that to generate belongs to the Divine nature, whereas to create belongs to His Divine energy. This he shows clearly saying, "nature and energy are not the same." If the Divine essence in no way differs from the Divine energy, then to beget (gennan) and to project (ekporeuein) will in no way differ from creating (poiein). God the Father creates by the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Thus He also begets and projects by the Son and in the Holy Spirit, according to the opinion of the opponents and those who agree with them. (Capita 96 and 97.)

St. Gregory quotes St. Cyril of Alexandria. But St. Cyril at this point was simply repeating St. Athanasius. St. Athanasius, in his refutation of Arianism, formally stressed the ultimate difference between ousia [essence] or physis [substance], on the one hand, and the boulesis [will], on the other. God exists, and then He also acts. There is a certain "necessity" in the Divine Being, indeed not a necessity of compulsion, and no fatum, but a necessity of being itself. God simply is what He is. But God's will is eminently free. He in no sense is necessitated to do what He does. Thus gennesis[generation] is always kata physin [according to essence], but creation is a bouleseos ergon [energy of the will] (Contra Arianos III. 64-6). These two dimensions, that of being and that of acting, are different, and must be clearly distinguished. Of course, this distinction in no way compromises the "Divine simplicity." Yet, it is a real distinction, and not just a logical device. St. Gregory was fully aware of the crucial importance of this distinction. At this point he was a true successor of the great Athanasius and of the Cappadocian hierarchs.

It has been recently suggested that the theology of St. Gregory, should be described in modern terms as an "existentialist theology." Indeed, it differed radically from modern conceptions which are currently denoted by this label. Yet, in any case, St. Gregory was definitely opposed to all kinds of "essentialist theologies" which fail to account for God's freedom, for the dynamism of God's will, for the reality of Divine action. St. Gregory would trace this trend back to Origen. It was the predicament of the Greek impersonalist metaphysics. If there is any room for Christian metaphysics at all, it must be a metaphysics of persons. The starting point of St. Gregory's theology was the history of salvation: on the larger scale, the Biblical story, which consisted of Divine acts, culminating in the Incarnation of the Word and His glorification through the Cross and Resurrection; on the smaller scale, the story of the Christian man, striving after perfection, and ascending step by step, till he encounters God in the vision of His glory. It was usual to describe the theology of St. Irenaeus as a "theology of facts." With no lesser justification we may describe also the theology of St. Gregory Palamas as a "theology of facts."

In our own time, we are coming more and more to the conviction that "theology of facts" is the only sound Orthodox theology. It is Biblical. It is Patristic. It is in complete conformity with the mind of the Church.

In this connection we may regard St. Gregory Palamas as our guide and teacher, in our endeavour to theologize from the heart of the Church.

1. It has been recently suggested that Gnostics were actually the first to invoke formally the authority of an "Apostolic Tradition" and that it was their usage which moved St. Irenaeus to elaborate his own conception of Tradition. D. B. Reynders, "Paradosis: Le proges de l'idee de tradition jusqu'a Saint Irenee," in Recherches de Theologie ancienne et medievale, V (1933), Louvain, 155-191. In any case, Gnostics used to refer to "tradition."

2. Paul Maas, ed.. Fruhbyzantinische Kirchenpoesie, I (Bonn, 1910), p. 24.

3. Louis Bouyer, "Le renouveau des etudes patristiques," in La Vie Intellectuelle, XV (Fevrier 1947), 18.

4. Mabillon, Bernardi Opera, Praefatio generalis, n. 23 (Migne, P. L., CLXXXII, c. 26).

5. Cf. M. Lot-Borodine, "La doctrine de la deification dans I'Eglise grecque jusqu'au XI siecle," in Revue de l'histoire des religions, tome CV, Nr I (Janvier-Fevrier 1932), 5-43; tome CVI, Nr 2/3 (Septembre-Decembre 1932), 525-74; tome CVII, Nr I (Janvier-Fevrier 1933), 8-55.

From Ch. 7 of The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. I, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View (Vaduz, Europa: Buchervertriebsanstalt, 1987), pp. 105-120. This classic is now out of print but still available.


Here is the first passage that I want to comment on.   It will be followed by a passage from Cardinal Avery Dulles on Yves Congar's understanding of Tradition.

The true tradition is only the tradition of truth, traditio veritatis. This tradition, according of St. Irenaeus, is grounded in, and secured by, that charisma veritatis certum [secure charisma of truth], which has been "deposited" in the Church from the very beginning and has been preserved by the uninterrupted succession of episcopal ministry. "Tradition" in the Church is not a continuity of human memory, or a permanence of rites and habits. It is a living tradition—depositum juvenescens, in the phrase of St. Irenaeus. Accordingly, it cannot be counted inter mortuas regulas [among dead rules]. Ultimately, tradition is a continuity of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a continuity of Divine guidance and illumination. The Church is not bound by the "letter." Rather, she is constantly moved forth by the "Spirit." The same Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, which "spake through the Prophets," which guided the Apostles, is still continuously guiding the Church into the fuller comprehension and understanding of the Divine truth, from glory to glory.
After that Orthodox text, we shall now have the Catholic one.

For Congar, tradition is a real, living self-communication of God. Its content is the whole Christian reality disclosed in Jesus Christ, including the implicit contents of that disclosure. The Holy Spirit is the transcendent subject of tradition; the whole Church is its bearer. Thus tradition is an essentially social and ecclesial reality; its locus is the Church as a communion. It is transmitted not only by written and spoken words but equally by prayer, sacramental worship and participation in the Church’s life. Tradition, while consisting primarily in the process of transmission, is not sheer process.
Its content is expressed to a greater or lesser degree in a variety of documents and other "monuments", as Congar calls them. Interacting with the consciousness of those who receive it, tradition develops and is enriched in the course of centuries. Continual meditation on the inspired Scriptures on the part of those who obey the Gospel gives rise to new insights as to what was tacitly communicated in the original Revelation. The Church’s teaching office, or Magisterium, has the commission to supervise the process of transmission, to stigmatize errors and to define revealed truths as they become clear to the believing Church.

This understanding of Tradition was taken a step further by the Orthodox theologian Nicholai Afanassieff, he who coined the title of "eucharistic ecclesiology" which was taken over by Vatican II and clearly expressed in this passage from ch 1 of the Constitution on the Liturgy:

every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.
 the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.

Moreover, there is a direct connection of idea between the prayer of invoking the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic Prayer and the charisma veritatis certum that only the Church has.   Here is the final invocation in the Anaphora of St Hippolytus:

And we pray that you would send your Holy Spirit to the oblation of your Holy Church. In their gathering together, give to all those who partake of your holy mysteries the fullness of the Holy Spirit, toward the strengthening of the faith in truththat we may praise you and glorify you, through your son Jesus Christ, through whom to you be glory and honor, Father and Son, with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Church, now and always, [Amen]
All the Church's powers come from the Liturgy, centred on the Eucharist.  It follows that Tradition has its roots in the liturgical life of the Church, and that means, in the local Church because liturgy is always local.   Liturgy is also the work of Christ and the Church working in synergy, brought together by the Holy Spirit who is asked to strengthen the faith in truth.   Why?  So that the we may rightly praise and worship God.  The word "orthodoxy" means both "right belief" and "right glory" or "right worship".

If Tradition has its roots in the local church and local and regional churches, and these differ among themselves in culture, language,  ecclesial experience, and church history.   It follows that there is a diversity of traditions.   On the other hand, the Eucharist is the same in all places, being our participation in the same heavenly liturgy celebrated by Christ who is dead but risen and ascended and who makes intercession for us with the sprinkling of his blood, in the Holy of Holies, together with with the angels and saints.   Through communion in his flesh, which is the veil of the heavenly temple, we enter into the presence of his Father - it is all the the Letter to the Hebrews.  Thus, each local eucharistic community is like the visible part of an iceberg, united to all the other parts, both past, present and future, by the Holy Spirit.  This means that there is a unity in the diversity in every local celebration; and while each local church can be truly called "Body of Christ", there is a diversity of traditions, all versions of the one universal Tradition, each a product of its own history from the time of the Apostles until now..  On earth, unity in diversity in of the "esse" of the Church, made possible by the Holy Spirit in each church, making many churches one Church, and many forms of tradition into one Tradition.


Fr Florovsky's text:

 The Church is "Apostolic" indeed. But the Church is also "Patristic." She is intrinsically "the Church of the Fathers." These two "notes" cannot be separated. Only by being "Patristic" is the Church truly "Apostolic."....Patristic theology was existentially rooted in the decisive commitment of faith. It was not a self-explanatory "discipline" which could be presented argumentatively, that is aristotelikos, without any prior spiritual engagement. In the age of theological strife and incessant debates, the great Cappadocian Fathers formally protested against the use of dialectics, of "Aristotelian syllogisms," and endeavoured to refer theology back to the vision of faith. Patristic theology could be only preached" or "proclaimed"—preached from the pulpit, proclaimed also in the words of prayer and in the sacred rites, and indeed manifested in the total structure of Christian life. Theology of this kind can never be separated from the life of prayer and from the exercise of virtue. 

Commentary: You may recognise a certain antagonism to Scholasticism, but his objection to this movement is perfectly consistent, not only with his "existential" theology and that of the Fathers.   It is also consistent with both his view of the nature of Tradition and that of Congar and Dulles.  Dogmas are not abstract, unhistorical truths, to be studied in a way dis-connected from all the other ingredients of Tradition, manifold, multi-shaped, and often untidy as they are.  Indeed, dogmas only come alive within the context of the praying Church that strives to do God's will, and can only be understood within the living Tradition of the Church which is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church.

Yves Congar was a Dominican friar who, with others, came to radically disagree with the neo-scholasticism of their brother friars, the kind that received the backing of the Vatican.  They claimed that there was a great difference between St Thomas Aquinas and  the neo-scholatics.    Having been educated in the Benedictine monastery of Montecassino, with its Divine Office and Lectio Divina, and steeped in the study of the Fathers, as well as a follower of St Dominic, St Thomas saw theology as a dimension of the Dominican search for God, and prayed it as well as studied it - he said he learnt more theology on his knees than in the study hall - he crossed into the other world of universities and scholasticism because that was where the students were, and they needed sound theology.   This made him very different from the pre-Vatican II neo-scholastics who started with his Summa Theologica and made it a substitute for the meditative reading of Scripture, for the study of the Fathers etc, which became secondary subjects.

Anyone who studied under the Dominicans before and during Vatican II, as I did at Fribourg, know the neo-scholastic agenda.  Central to the studies was the study of the Summa, in dogmatic and moral theology.  There was no effort made to match what we learnt in other subjects.  The Professor of Liturgy talked about the whole eucharistic prayer as consecratory, but Pere Nicholas in Dogma went on and on about "matter" and "form", as though the evidence posited by the professor of liturgy did not stand for anything.   In separating their theology from the "Fathers", the neo-scholastics separated it from real life and emptied many of the concepts they used from their world-shaking meaning by divorcing them from ordinary human experience. The "supernatural" became so distinct from the "natural" that you could only believe it from an unverifiable distance; and this influenced everything.  Mass was often celebrated automatically but validly.  I knew priests who said Mass in ten minutes.  Adolescents went in and out of "mortal sin" several times a week as they strove to come to terms with their own sexuality without any real change to their human situation.  All could be reduced to "observing the rules."  Without any real connection with human experience, the Christian life lost its relevance for too many people.   Most of all, this sharp distinction between "supernatural" and "natural" greatly encouraged the wholesale apostasy of the modern world by people starved of genuine religious experience.   If we wished to attempt to keep Europe Christian, we needed to re-connect Christian teaching with ordinary human experience, and this was beyond the capacity of neo-scholasticism.

In 1942, a young Jesuit called Henri de Lubac wrote an article in which he spoke about the great loss of faith in the modern world, especially in the industrial cities.   He put this down to the fact that there were too few opportunities for modern people to experience the "holy", which, he said, is the basis of religion.  The Mass was in Latin and clericalised, neo-scholasticism was so divorced from reality that it didn't see the problem and could not contribute to a solution.   What is needed is a return to the existential theology of the Fathers, the re-interpretation of St Thomas as the French Dominicans were calling for, a reform of the liturgy that would open its riches to ordinary working people so that they could be brought into contact with the "holy". He also wrote about the relationship between nature and grace, because he believed that too sharp a distinction between the two lay at the heart of neo-scholasticism's inability to cope, contributing to the problem rather than to the solution.  He said that "pure nature" is a theological fiction because mankind was created by God with a supernatural vocation, so that to be without grave distorts human nature.  He quoted St Augustine about our having been made for God, and that we cannot be satisfied with anything less.   Hence we have a natural desire for God and a natural sense of the "holy" when we meet it.  The Church must be ready to satisfy this natural desire for God and bring about occasions when people can be brought in contact with the holy.   This would involve liturgical reform.

  Henri de Lubac and Jean Danielou began the mammoth task of translating the Fathers into French.  Soon a movement began to be formed, though it was unconscious of this at the time.  They were simply theologians who compared notes as friends.  They were seen as a group long before they saw themselves as a group, and their theology was called the "new theology" by their enemies, specially because they appealed to Tradition, and those who opposed them said that they were untraditional.

Their series of translations of the Church Fathers, "Sources Chretiennes", brought them into contact with the colony of Russian Orthodox theologians who had come to Paris after the Revolution.   To the surprise of both sides, they had much in common:

  1. Both groups were under a cloud of suspicion from their own authorities: the Catholics because of their radical appeal to Tradition over much current theology, and also disagreement with neo-scholasticism which was supported by the Vatican; and the Russians because theologians in Orthodox countries suspected any theologian who lived in the West of being influenced by Rome, xenophobia being considered a Christian virtue.
  2. Both sides were dissatisfied with the received theology currently regarded as normal by their own churches.
  3. Perhaps the greatest surprise of all, both sides discovered that their principle theological adversary was neo-scholasticism, the Russians putting the basic problem in Orthodox theology down to the influence of neo-scholasticism.
  4. Both sides found the identical solution to their problems in Tradition; hence the later title of "ressourcement" for the whole movement.

Charles Peguy

The word "ressourcement" is a literary quote from the French Catholic writer, Charles Peguy who wrote what this school made its agenda, and which became the unwritten agenda for Vatican II.   Let me quote from Yves Congar:

 Today this appeal to "tradition" is made in a new way; ressourcement (a return to the sources) is in fashion. This splendid word, coined by Charles Péguy, implies a return to the origins, or more often an advance to the present day, starting from the origins. This idea springs from Péguy's conception of revolution and reform as "the appeal made by a less perfect tradition to one more perfect; the appeal made by a shallower tradition to one more profound; the withdrawal of tradition to reach a new depth, to carry out research at a deeper level; a return to the source, in the literal sense" . [4] Péguy also speaks of "the introspection that retraces its steps through human history"
The idea of Tradition that I learned in my youth was a process by which the original deposit of revelation has gradually unfolded, becoming clearer over time and is  now at its clearest. Let us take as an example Papal Infallibility.

  It has been recognised by even some Anglican scholars that Pope Leo the Great's idea of papal infallibility did not differ very much from the idea of Vatican I, but it wasn't a view held universally throughout the Church.   It came to be held with ever greater clarity until, in 1870, it was declared a dogma of faith, and to deny it is heresy; and for the Orthodox Church to be re-united with us, they must come to accept something we see with such great clarity.  More, as teaching was clearer now than in the past, there was no real need to go back to the past.  All we needed to do was to listen to the modern "magisterium" which gave us all we needed to know.

This is not the view of the ressourcement theologians.  For them, Tradition is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church, always and everywhere, expressed, in the first instance, in the liturgy: it is the Gospel lived by the power of the Holy Spirit in every age.   It doesn't matter what century we are looking at, in every century we will find the Holy Spirit behind what the Church is doing: the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church belongs to its very nature, though not everything that happens in the Church has the same relationship with the Holy Spirit. Theological teaching is to be judged by the degree that it reflects Tradition; and, in order to study this, we can compare the happening with what happened before it, or what happened after, because the Church always has this basic relationship.  However there are certain rules. Nothing can become a heresy that was not a heresy before.   Nothing can be absolutely forbidden that was not forbidden before, though there can be a temporary ban for pastoral reasons.   Nothing can be spiritually harmful that was regarded before as virtuous.   All popes and councils are servants of Tradition, not its masters.  If there is a problem in the modern Church which involves Catholic teaching or practice, let us look back to any time or place in Tradition to see if there is any alternative that may solve the problem; and we can appeal to the whole Tradition across regions and rites.

Pope Benedict XVI permitted the use of the "old Mass", using these principles.  He not only said that he permitted the use of the old Mass: he said that he had no power to forbid its use because he was a servant of Tradition, not its master.   Using the same principles, the last three popes have said that the Orthodox would not be asked to accept the dogmas of Vatican I, the Immaculate Conception etc because, if they belonged to Catholic communion without adhering to those teachings before the schism, the Vatican has no right to insist that they accept them after the schism.  Clearly, Catholic ecumenical councils and papal dogmas reflect the Latin tradition, a tradition like the others that is the product of the Holy Spirit and the Church, a true version of truly Catholic Tradition, which, at the same time, reflects western rather than eastern historical experience.  Their conclusions may not be relevant or may not fit in to another tradition with different cultural and spiritual pre-suppositions: they cannot simply be imposed on the other traditions.  The same goes for elements of Eastern tradition, which cannot be imposed on the West.   On the other hand, members of one tradition can freely choose from another tradition if it helps: for instance, the use of the Jesus Prayer  is growing in the West, while Catholic-style "Sisters of Mercy" are being adopted in the East. On the other hand, the Immaculate Conception pre-supposes a view of original sin that Orthodoxy does not share; but both sides accept that Mary is the All-Holy.
      As the guidance of the Spirit into all truth is based on the Eucharist, then each tradition can claim that they have this guidance.   This means we have to respect the decisions of each church, even if we cannot see at the moment how it fits in with our tradition, and we must hold firm on our own: fidelity to the Holy Spirit demands it.  Each tradition belongs to the very nature of the church as we understand the church. To deny our tradition is to deny our own Christian identity; nor can we , for the same reason,be expected to accept a dogma that is foreign to our tradition.

This not just theoretical: it happened to the Melkites (click title)  The Melkite Catholic Church came out of a schism within the Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch.  The patriarch of Constantinople deposed the reigning patriarch and put someone else in his place.  The deposed patriarch appealed to Rome, and the pope confirmed him as Patriarch of Antioch.   Thus there came into communion with Rome an ex-Orthodox church, complete with its Orthodox theology and tradition.  Unlike the other Greek Catholic churches, it kept its own Orthodox theology very much intact: they are the original "Orthodox in communion with Rome," but  union with Rome was and remains an intricate part of its identity.  For the Melkites, the Pope was and is the successor of St Peter, the centre of unity, the last court of appeal; but that didn't mean he had immediate episcopal jurisdiction over everybody, including patriarchs, nor that he could proclaim dogmas infallibility on his own.  Then Vatican I came along, and the Melkite bishops were expected to accept two "truths" completely opposed to their tradition.  They all left Rome the day before they were expected to accept the dogmas. When Pius IX insisted, through his nuncio that they sign, they did so with an added rider "except for the rights of the patriarchs" which left Pio Nono not being quite sure whether they accepted the dogmas or not.   That is how they remained, until Vatican II when they became, unashamedly, "Orthodox in communion with Rome" and played a major part in the council.  For more, click here

However, when ressourcement theologians came to look into into Tradition to find alternative solutions to modern problems, they fully accept that Tradition takes several forms, and all of them can be quarried for answers because all the traditions that are versions of Tradition are of equal value. In this perspective, it is quite possible to interpret the Vatican I dogmas in the light of Christianity in the first thousand years as to look at the problem the other way round.  As Fr George Florovsky points out, apart from the special position of the Apostles in Christian history, the ancient Church  and the Church today are the same Church and have the same Holy Spirit: there is no reason to believe that the Church at any time was more or less blessed or spiritually capable than any other time.

It was common convictions like these, convictions they had before they met each other, that led the Catholic and Orthodox theologians to become familiar with each other's thought.  They did not represent any authority; they were not trying to convert anybody, nor to unite the two churches: they were simply theologians enjoying their subject.  Several Orthodox ideas were either adopted by the Catholics or recognised as having their Catholic equivalent.   They also kept this relationship a secret.   I once asked an Orthodox archimandrite why Vladimir Lossky was so profound when writing about Orthodox theology but so silly when he wrote about Catholicism.  He said that passages on the sharp contrast between Catholicism and Orthodoxy were an almost ritual requirement by Russian theologians abroad if they wanted to be read back home.

Here it would have all rested if Archbishop Angelo Roncalli had not become papal nuncio in Paris; and if he had not, later, become Pope John XXIII, and had not called a council, and had not invited these French Catholic theologians, until that time, shunned and castigated by the Vatican, as theological experts.  Then, in the Council, they were joined by Fr Joseph Ratzinger and a young Polish archbishop called Wojtlyla.  This made the dialogue as important, perhaps, as the Council of Florence: man proposes but God disposes.
click on:

Here are two videos by Orthodox theologians on "Orthodoxy & St Thomas Aquinas," and one by an Anglican theologian giving a lecture in Russia on the trend towards the East in Western theology.

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