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Friday, 31 October 2014

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos-On The Patristic Period

It has become clear that the prophetic era is inseparably connected with the apostolic and patristic tradition, and this patristic tradition continues the apostolic era until our own time.

“One issue that needs a lot of clarification is the matter of the period of the patristic tradition. When does the patristic period begin and when does it end? For the Fathers of the Church themselves, the patristic tradition begins with Abraham. They speak of ‘the Fathers of the Old Testament’, ‘the Fathers of our Fathers’, and sometimes simply ‘the Fathers’ or even ‘Forefathers,’ and refer to those before the Law, under the Law and after the Law. It is very significant that there are Fathers before the Law, who are reconciled with God and friends of God, who have actually reached the experience of glorification before the Law. This is very important as it enables us to take a correct view of matters. Afterwards we have the Apostles; we have the incarnation, the period between the incarnation and Pentecost. Then we have what happens after Pentecost.”

Thus the patristic tradition is continuous in the Church without interruption.

In the West the Frankish theologians developed the theory that the patristic tradition came to an end in the 8th century. During the period of conflicts between Franks and Romans, the Franks did not accept St John of Damascus as a Father, only later did they regard St John of Damascus as the last Father of the Church. So the patristic tradition ended with him.

“In the era of the dispute (between Franks and Romans) the Damascene was not regarded as a Father of the Church by the Franks. The Franks accepted the Damascene in the 12th century as a Father of the Church. Until then they did not accept him. That is why the theology of Aquinas in the Summa Theologica holds such an important place. Aquinas continuously calls upon Augustine most of all, certain other Fathers, and the Damascene.

St John of Damascus had finally been translated into Latin and they accepted him as a Father of the Church. According to the Franks, however, he is the last Father of the Church who wrote in Greek. Why is he the last Father of the Church? Because all the other Fathers of the Church opposed the Franks on the subject of the filioque. Is it possible for them to accept as Fathers of the Church those who rejected the filioque’? That is how St John of Damascus became the last Father of the Church in the East.

In the West the last Father of the Church was either Isidore of Seville or Bernard of Clairvaux. But why does the patristic tradition end for the Franks in the West? The patristic tradition for the Franks is mainly the Roman theological tradition of patristic theology. Now we have the Frankish tradition and this theology is called scholastic theology. It is the Latin theological tradition as distinct from the Roman. Since the Franks regarded themselves as a better, nobler and cleverer people than the Romans, scholastic theology is also regarded as an improvement on patristic theology, and seen as superior to patristic theology.

Western theologians followed this line until the day before yesterday. When I was studying in a Papal school, this is what I was taught. There was patristic theology, then patristic theology gave way to scholastic theology. And the highest theology that has ever existed in the whole history of humankind is the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas.

Take the writings of Greek theologians after the Greek Revolution and you will see that they have been influenced by these Frankish ideas, which also reached Russia. Because when the Russians started writing they could not say that the Damascene was the last Father of the Church, and usually they ended with St Photios the Great as the last Father of the Church.

Now take the Greek writings and look up how many here in Greece say the same thing, that Photios is the last Father of the Church here in the East, and St Isidore of Seville in the West. This is the usual way of writing patristic theology and the history of dogmas. They tell us that we have no Fathers of the Church after St Photios the Great.”

That they did not regard St John of Damascus as a Father of the Church is clear from their failure to accept the decisions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council concerning the holy icons. This is unacceptable from an Orthodox point of view, however, because the patristic tradition has never come to an end. For that reason, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas and the ‘Philokalic’ Fathers in the period of Turkish domination, among others, have been declared to be Fathers.

“The Franks accepted the Seventh Ecumenical Council in the 12th century, and from then onwards John of Damascus was also reinstated as the last Father of the Church in the East and Bernard of Clairvaux as the last Father in the West, and this strange tradition continues. What is curious is the peculiar phenomenon of the parallelism between the Frankish tradition and the Russian tradition.

The Greek-speaking Orthodox within the Ottoman Empire never thought that the patristic tradition had ended, because for them the patristic tradition was Symeon the New Theologian, Nikitas Stithatos, Gregory Palamas, all the disciples of Gregory Palamas. For us the patristic tradition existed even in the period of Turkish domination. This tradition, that there was a tradition even after the fall of Constantinople, was destroyed by the University of Athens.”

The Franks did not know any of the Roman Fathers of the Church. In order to develop their theology, they used certain views of Augustine.

“The Franks knew no Fathers of the Church except Augustine. They also had Ambrose. That was another major problem, because it gives the impression that Augustine was Ambrose’s pupil. If, however, you do a comparison with the teachings of Augustine on the theological method, Ambrose has nothing like that in his writings.

In his theological method, Ambrose closely follows the Cappadocian Fathers, whom he translates and copies, because he knows Greek perfectly and reads them as well. In fact Jerome makes the accusation against Ambrose that his book about the Holy Spirit is nothing more than a translation from St Basil the Great. He copies St Basil to the letter on issues concerning the Holy Trinity. Of course this is not blameworthy, but he simply mentions it. Later, on the subject of revelation in the Old Testament, Ambrose follows word for word the earlier Fathers who wrote in Latin, who agreed absolutely with the Fathers who wrote in Greek. There is no difference at all.

Augustine, under the influence of his Manichaean past, wrote completely new interpretations. His interpretations of the manifestations of God in the Old Testament bear no relation either to the earlier Latin-speaking Fathers of the Church, or to any of the Greek-speaking Fathers of the Church. He takes a completely original new line on these issues, that is to say, concerning the revelation of the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament and so on.”

The Frankish theory about the patristic tradition coming to an end with St John of Damascus or St Photios was also developed by Russian theology, which includes St Gregory Palamas in the patristic tradition and progresses to new opinions.

“The perception developed among the Franks, who had conquered the Western provinces, that patristic theology used to exist and their own theology had taken its place, exactly as we see among the Russians. There is no Russian Father of the Church or, at least, if they exist they do not call them Fathers of the Church.

So there is the perception among the Russians that patristic theology ended with John of Damascus or Photios the Great. Or there are some Russians who can ‘hold on’ until Gregory Palamas in patristic theology. Then patristic theology stops, essentially, and Russian theology takes over from patristic theology. This is the line the Russians take. It is a fact.”

Tsarist Russia was much influenced by Frankish theology, particularly by scholastic theology and theological feudalism. This is why hesychasm — as represented by St Maximos of Vatopedi, called ‘the Greek’ — was condemned in Russia as anti-patristic.

The view of the Franks and the Russians that the patristic tradition came to an end in the 8th century led to the assertions that Frankish scholasticism and Russian theology surpassed the patristic tradition.

“The important thing for us to bear in mind is that the Russians were greatly influenced by the West from very early on. Because from the time when they officially condemned Maximos of Vatopedi, called ‘the Greek’, to imprisonment in the 16th century, they also condemned Nil Sorsky, who was leader of the Russian hesychasts.

The Russians had hesychastic monasticism. It seems that a movement started then for them to abandon this monasticism in exchange for a contemporary Western type. A non-Athonite kind of monasticism was introduced into Russia. This, obviously, was after Maximos of Vatopedi and Nil Sorsky had been condemned. Monasticism was condemned along with them.

In the Russian tradition, monks of the Holy Mountain are called ‘Non-Possessors’, whereas the others are called ‘Possessors’. One side said that poverty was essential for the monk, as they used to say in earlier times; no one can be an ascetic without being free from possessions. The other side said that property was indispensable for monasticism and it was essential for them to have property. Then the curious tradition was introduced into Russia whereby the Russian monasteries not only had lands but also servants, like the monasteries of the Franks.

The Frankish Monasteries always had a Frank as an Abbot and most of the monks were not Franks. This monasticism with serfs was introduced into Russia. When the class of muzhiks developed in Russia, particularly with the reforms of Peter the Great, European feudalism came into Russia and these people were made subservient. The monasteries were feudal institutions.

When scholastic theology appeared, monasticism in Russia faded away. Afterwards, hesychasm returned in 1817 with the spiritual children of Paissy Velichkovsky. Thus the revival of hesychastic monasticism began, which had such a great influence on Dostoevsky. It is obvious. Later it also influenced the Slavophiles, but in a romantic way, not in essence. The Slavophile theologians are something different. We should turn our attention to them as well.

The Russians had the idea that patristic theology had finished. They were unable to accept the idea that, after the fall of Constantinople, the Romans could be the hesychasts of the patristic tradition. Because now, with the development of holy Russia, the Russians had become the heirs not only of the political rights of Romanity but also of the theological rights. So they ought to become the supreme heirs of the Orthodox Church. Thus they became susceptible to the Franks’ theory about the patristic tradition coming to an end.

In the Frankish tradition, however, patristic theology ended in a theological and political manner, because, when the Franks added the filioque to the Creed, they immediately encountered the opposition of all the Roman theologians in the Empire, in both West and East. The Latin-speaking Romans as well as the Greek-speaking Romans objected to the introduction of the filioque into the Creed and to the dogma of the filioque. This meant that, because the Fathers of the Church fought against the filioque, it was impossible for them to be regarded as Fathers of the Church by the Franks.

For this reason and in this way, because the Roman Fathers of the Church fought against the. filioque, the Franks automatically terminated the patristic tradition with John of Damascus. Because John of Damascus was the last Father of the Church who did not do battle against the filioque, at least openly, although he clearly taught that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father.

For this reason Thomas Aquinas says that he was influenced by Theodoret of Cyrus on this issue. Thomas Aquinas admits that the Damascene is against the filioque. It was known to the Franks that John of Damascus was against the filioque. That is precisely why they did not have him as a Father of the Church from the beginning. John of Damascus became acceptable as a Father of the Church only in the 12th century, together with the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Officially, John of Damascus is in favour of icons and in favour of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and definitely against the filioque. Afterwards, however, a compromise was reached between the vanquished Romans of Rome and the Franks, and the outcome of this compromise was the recognition of the Seventh Ecumenical Council and John of Damascus by the Franks, since the Romans of the West had already accepted the filioque under duress.

What is of interest to us is that, when the Russians and the Franks say that patristic theology comes to an end, they mean by this expression that it is succeeded by something better than what was there before. In the Frankish tradition, Frankish theology is better than patristic theology. It is not simply a continuation of the patristic tradition, but is superior to it. For that reason, the propaganda is that patristic theology ends and afterwards scholastic theology begins. Scholastic theology is superior to patristic theology. Here in Greece such a thing is unimaginable. The Russians, too, took a curious line. For them Byzantium forfeited patristic theology with the fall of the Empire…”

The Marxists encountered this scholastic and feudalistic theology of Tsarist Russia and made war on Christianity. This sort of theology of Western origin is not Orthodox patristic theology, but a deviation from it.

“The Marxists do not know the God of Orthodoxy. Russian Marxists know the God of Tsarist Russia, but He is the God of the Franks, the God of metaphysics and philosophy, not the God of the patristic tradition and hesychasm, of experience, glorification and illumination. This is not the God of Tsarist Russia. Because Tsarist Russia in the 16th century officially condemned hesychasm, when it imprisoned Maximos of the Holy Mountain, and he died in prison. This means that the Russian tradition took shape far away from the patristic tradition. The Russians have their own tradition.

For that reason the Greeks have been deluded for so many years with the propaganda of Korais, thinking that they will imitate the Russians. In which era will they imitate the Russians? If you reckon that, when Korais wrote that the Orthodox Church of Greece should imitate Tsarist Russia, that country had feudalism and the Church was supporting feudalism in those years, the servitude of Russians, of the muzhiks…”

The modern Greek state accepted Korais’ theories and hastily broke away from the Ecumenical Patriarch, with ecclesiastical and theological consequences.

“This means that the Ministry of Education immediately adopted the line of Adamantios Korais. In this way the foundations of patristic theology were destroyed and replaced with westernised Russian theology and praxis. This is extremely important. Theology and praxis go together.”

In recent times intense efforts have been made to alter the foundations of the patristic tradition.

“In the modern Greek state, Orthodoxy had been completely uprooted, destroying its traditional inner continuity with the past. They had not the slightest clue about the patristic theological method. Not that they did not understand it; not a trace of comprehension had remained. Nothing, absolutely nothing, had remained. They did not even know any more what God was, nor did they know what illumination was, nor did they know what purification was, nor did they know how the Fathers interpreted Holy Scripture…All they knew, in a superficial way, were a few things from the Fathers.”

Fortunately in our own days we have understood this loss and are returning to the genuine hesychastic patristic tradition. To summarise, the Fathers are the successors of the Apostles and the Prophets, and the patristic tradition is inseparably linked with ecclesiastical life.

—Excerpt from ‘Empirical Dogmatics‘, Volume One, by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

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