Florovsky’s “The Challenge of Our Time”

The Challenge of Our Time


The great Russian bishop of the last century, Theophanes “The Recluse” (d. 1894), in one of his pastoral letters makes a startling statement. What the Russian Church most needed, he said, was “a band of firebrands,” which would set the world on fire. The incendiaries must be themselves burning and go around to inflame human minds and hearts. Theophanes did not trust a “residual Christianity.” Customs could be perpetuated by inertia, he said, but convictions and beliefs could be kept only by spiritual vigilance and continuous effort by the spirit. Theophanes felt that there was too much routine and convention in the life of Russian Christians. He anticipated a crisis and even a collapse. He resigned his diocese and retired to a monastery, because he felt that he could do much more service to the Church by writing books than by administering a bishopric.

Theophanes was a man of wide learning and experience. For some time he was Rector of the Theological Academy (in St. Petersburg). He traveled extensively in the Christian East and was intimately linked with Mount Athos. He was a good Greek scholar, and he used this knowledge for translations. He always insisted that he retired not for an advanced spiritual life (which is possible, and should be practiced for the ordinary life) but to have time and leisure for literary and scholarly work. He took to his monastic cell all his books, a selected library from which were not excluded books by Western scholars and secular literature. He wanted to know the world to which he had to bring the message of salvation. He did not dispute the labors and achievements of those who did not belong to the Orthodox communion of faith.

The retired bishop spent his time in writing: He translated “Philokalia,” [see Book Reviews ]; the works of St. Simeon the New Theologian; the ancient Monastic Rules (Eastern and Western); he published several volumes of his commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul, intended not so much for scholars, but to help all believers understand this inspired teaching; he wrote several books on Christian Ethics and Spirituality. Theophanes began every day with the Divine Liturgy, which he celebrated alone in his tiny domestic chapel, and he would use the inspiration of the daily communion for his scholarly and pastoral work.

The impact of Theophanes’ writings on the life of the Russian Church was enormous. In his retirement, as a “recluse,” he was more influential than he could ever have been as administrator of a worldly diocese. He made Christian doctrine available for average Christians, for all Christians. He wanted to equip them with spiritual weapons for their Christian struggle. He required from all Christians — from clergy first of all — a thorough knowledge and understanding of our Holy Faith, which alone could save our life from unhealthy sentimentalism and imagination. He insisted on the study of the Scriptures and of the Holy Fathers.

Now, many years have passed since Theophanes’ time. His worst anticipations were justified. The whole Orthodox Church — not only in Russia — is involved in a desperate struggle with the raging assault of godlessness and unbelief. Human souls are undergoing an incredible trial. But the protecting veil of Divine Mercy is spread over the suffering Church and the possessed world, and men are called to be Christ’s witnesses: His Messengers and Apostles. The Church is essentially a missionary institution. One has to thank God for that army of new martyrs and confessors who have revealed or manifested the strength and the beauty of Christian Faith. And yet one should not be too easily satisfied with what has been done by others. So much has been left not done by us.

Let us confine our attention this time to one aspect of our Christian duty. Everyone knows that we are desperately short of books. Behind the “iron curtain” an impressive literature of atheism has been created and widely spread. Special colleges have been established to train people “for a godless ministry.” Textbooks on anti-religious propaganda, and on the methodology of godless preaching have been prepared for classrooms.

What is our response to this challenge? In the Ancient Church, the Holy Fathers met the challenge of the pagan world by an outpouring of Christian writings, attacking point by point the arguments of the opponents. What have we done in our own situation? Can we really meet the enemy on the field and save the victims of this unparalleled spiritual persecution?

The rusty weapons will not do. I am not speaking of the Holy Tradition, of the writings of the Holy Fathers, but of the inadequate books of the last century, which were so often ephemeral and rarely presented a sufficient interpretation of the Holy Tradition. Our theological production stopped years ago, and that stoppage testifies to our neglect of the teaching mission of the Church. Ignorance is growing in the Church and we are not alarmed!

Are there any books in which our Holy Orthodox Faith can be convincingly preached and commended to our own generation?

We in America, where the majority of Orthodox Christians are English-speaking, are in an especially difficult situation. There is no Orthodox literature in English. There are occasional books, often of modest quality, and rarely on the most urgent or basic subjects. The real problem, however, is not that of books, but of study. Each generation, especially in a new country, has to assess the Christian truth afresh, in continuous contact with the past, as well as in close contact with the changing present. It is not enough to learn by rote some ready answers. They may be perfectly right and correct. But we have to solve the questions by thinking through the answers and not by merely reciting formulas, sacred and perfect though they are. Listen to the searching man! He knows the formula, but cannot relate it to his existential questioning. Our Creed is a most perfect formula. How often do we recite it without conviction? Are we able to relate it to our urgent spiritual needs? How many Orthodox dispense with the Creed, because it has ceased to have for them any immediate spiritual appeal? The Creed is charged with an eternal and loving Truth. It is an eternal key to human unrest, but it needs interpretation. Otherwise we would not know how to fit the key in the lock.

What our present generation wants, especially in our country, is a true theological revival — a revival of a living theology, which would unlock for us that Truth which one can find in the Scriptures, in the Tradition, and in the Liturgical life of the Church, but which is sealed away from us by our ignorance and neglect. We need today more than ever before, precisely a “band of spiritual firebrands” who can inflame minds and hearts with the fire of a loving knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. God calls us, in our generation, to be His witnesses and messengers. How can men believe if they do not hear the quickening Word? Even if we are men of unclean lips, let us respond to the Divine call, and the fire of the Spirit will cleanse us, for the ministry of the Word.

V. Rev. George Florovsky, D.D.

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly , Vol. 1, No. 1, Fall 1952, pp. 3–5

The Spiritual Attributes of God: notes on mind-bending chapter nine


The attributes discussed last chapter — infinity, eternity, supraspatiality, omnipotence — were formal “structural” attributes that could be experienced “externally.” They could be observed in what is commonly called “general revelation.”

But the attributes discussed in this chapter (omniscience, justice and mercy, holiness and love) are experienced “internally,” through the spirit of man. They are the manifestations of what God is in His essence, in which the “self-sacrifice” of the Three Persons is absolutely complete, so that there is no movement to cover any interval, but there is, instead, a “stability.”

Frequently, Staniloae is not at all shy about saying that God “cannot” do something. When he says that God “cannot” do something — like “he cannot make them to be as he himself is, that is uncreated and sources of existence” (p216) — we misinterpret “cannot” as a limitation, and as a contradictory constraint upon God’s infinity. Actually, however, the “cannot” refers to the infinitely transcendent gulf between the created and the Creator, and so the “cannot” — far from being a contradiction of the infinite — is actually an enlarging indicator of the infinite.

The spiritual attributes which “bridge” this gulf between Creator and the immediacy of souls are rooted in this perfectly and infinitely complete stability (i.e., “perichoresis”) work “from within” the soul, in what Staniloae calls “interiority.” In each of these cases — omniscience, justice, holiness and love — God is essentially unknown, but He is experienced in these energies.

But He is experienced personally. This is true of all the energies of the Holy Trinity, but it is especially true of the “spiritual attributes.” The personal character of these energies are the main reason why the energies are called “Names.” To understand these attributes as impersonal forces is to utterly distort them, and to cause grave theological errors all the way down into practical understanding.


Nowhere is the importance of the personal character of spiritual attributes so essential as it is with Omniscience. God knows everything — and for Him to be God as Absolute (as every theist must admit), He must be omniscient — extending to all space and time, past, present and future.

But some theists go so far as to say that His foreknowledge is the same as pre-destination — and to suggest this means that divine knowledge is understood as impersonal force or static field.

God does not think or know as we do, as these are names appropriate only for creatures and not the Creator. But He is the cause of these “activities of the creature” (p199). He is the transcendent source of all knowledge: that is, when something or, better, someone is truly known, then the energy of knowledge, based upon the spiritual attribute of omniscience, has been participated in.

Staniloae emphatically dismisses any attempt to separate knowledge into the Western dichotomies of “God’s knowledge of Himself,” and “God’s knowledge of created things.” He takes Karl Barth especially to task for maintaining that God’s knowledge of Himself is infinite, but His knowledge of creatures is finite.

Against this division, Dionysios the Areopagite prohibits any such separation: “Consequently, God does not possess a private knowledge of himself and a separate knowledge of all the creatures in common. The universal Cause, by knowing itself, can hardly be ignorant of the things which proceed from it and of which it is the source.” (The Divine Names 7.2, quoted in Staniloae, p200).

In His Omniscience, God knows all the logoi of all created things, and so because God knows Himself absolutely, He knows all things already, and always.

If there is any division between divine knowledge — or rather, from our standpoint , “knowledge of God” — and knowledge of things, it is certainly true in creaturely experience. This is a natural division that was intended at the outset to be traversed: but it became an unnatural alienation after the Fall.

But this division is meant to be surmounted as we unite these two knowledges in our spiritual growth. We God as Cause of things, and we begin to know things fully because we start to recognize not only their “creatureliness,” but also their present reality and their destiny in the eschatological transfiguration of all things.

Until that perfection, however, not only do we fail to know God, but we also fail to know created things in their reality. We will only know reality when “… we are completely united with him and he is wholly within the whole of us” (p201, citing St Maximos the Confessor, in The Ambigua).

This possibility of knowledge is not deferred until some moment that is separate from the present. Here is one of the many places that Staniloae highlights the difference between the Eastern patristic tradition (including Maximos) and the later Western philosophical schools. The possibility of God as Supreme Person (i.e., the Trinity as personal) communing wholly and completely with us is a present possibility, mainly because the single undivided Knowledge is a personal possibility.

Knowledge — that is, full knowledge — “is the full union between the one who knows and the one who is known, just as ignorance causes separation or is the effect of separation” (p201). For Staniloae, epistemology is an interpersonal event, not just an academic and therefore static field.

Moreover, it is just because knowledge is interpersonal that there is now the possibility of the approach of humanity toward God. The union of God with man is not and really cannot be one-sided: love requires mutuality of persons … and no matter how far man has descended into dissolution and dereliction, he remains potentially able to do the part required.

It might be said here that the analogy of being is neither eclipsed by God’s utter transcendence, nor is it vitiated. God’s transcendence does not mean an utter discontinuity: to say so is to suggest that there is no infinitely constant movement of God toward His creation, whether or not that movement is accepted and met with an analogical movement by the creature.

In this context, unsurprisingly, Staniloae refers to Hans Urs von Balthasar approvingly: the knowledge of God “cannot be equated with the conception that God is beyond all possibility of approach within a totally inaccessible transcendence” (p201). More to the point, he uses the term “analogy” in a later paragraph: “God can be known from all things through analogy with all things and through his presence in all things as the one who is their cause” (p206).

It is interesting, to say the least, that von Balthasar is approved just one page after Barth is rebutted.

Humans are called to assume the character of the Supreme Person’s self-sacrifice (i.e., kenosis) and are only then able to “re-interpret” time as a path toward eternity and union with God in love. They thus progress in the knowledge of God and creatures until “they are fully known within the full union and love that are identical with ‘eternal life’ (John 3.16)” (p202).

Staniloae lists three critical implications of knowledge defined as “union of transcendent Person to person-as-creature without confusion.”

First of all, knowledge presumes a “going out” from self toward the other, in which existence is held in common. This is the “oneness” that two persons share in love. I wonder, too, if there is some deep structural linkage between this interpersonal sense of knowledge and the old Hebrew meaning of the term for knowing: yade, which possesses an intimate, nuptial meaning. Is the true meaning of nuptial intercourse but a symbol that not only represents the deeper interpersonal knowledge, but also participates in it?

In this nuptial context, too, is indicated the indivisible linkage between the main Greek terms for “love”: eros, and agape. Staniloae strongly asserts that St Dionysios (cf p244), for one, knows no difference in meaning between these terms, as opposed to the clear Reformed distinction between creaturely eros and strictly divine agape (e.g., Anders Nygren). I mention this in particular, as I was very much a fan of C. S. Lewis’ Four Loves, which was itself an extended meditation upon Nygren’s differentiation between eros and agape.

(For what it’s worth, I am glad that Pope Benedict XVI corrected this modern separation of eros and agape in his letter, Deus caritas est.)

The second implication of knowledge-as-communion is that if it is true that personal distance and total solitude both preclude complete knowledge, then it must be that for God to have complete knowledge of Himself, then He must be a community of Three Persons.

In other words, divine knowledge, at base, must be trinitarian in essence and is trinitarian in form. All knowledge is “a loving reference of one subject to another subject” (p202), and thus, “Nothing is understood apart from the holy Trinity” (p203). This has to do with the fundamental motive for knowledge rooted in interpersonal love, which proceeds the Holy Trinity itself.

For humans, even self-knowledge is derived from reference to relationship with others. I cannot think of a more profound difference from modern epistemology than this affirmation: that ego is known only in terms of the other. “We are conscious of ourselves only in relationship with the other and, in the final analysis, before God” (p204).

The third implication is teleological. All creation is destined for glorification in the universal transfiguration on the Last Day, the Parousia. All knowledge is in tension in anticipation of the Last Day, when persons will be known, and will know, Supreme Person completely: “Though now we see through a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face.”

So crucial is this teleological sense of knowledge that it prompts Staniloae to make this arresting statement: “[God] does not know [all creatures] within the process of actualizing their potential image, nor does he see them in the end of this process” (p206).

Staniloae suggests that there are two ways in which Scripture describes God “knowing” His creatures. The first is the sense of omniscience, in which God knows all things. But the second is the deeper of sense of the perfect of this knowledge as full communion, in which persons “co-inhere” with each other. And in this second sense, it is clear that those who refuse to participate in deification will indeed be in a state where they do not know God, obviously, but it is also true that God will not know — in the deepest sense of the word — them.

Orthodox Holy Tradition has always separated the complete foreknowledge of God from predestination. The conflation of these two terms is due to a denial of freedom given to spiritual creatures on one hand, and on the other, a failure to recognize knowledge as a personal (as well as infinite) spiritual attribute. All creatures are destined to participate in the universal transfiguration at the end: and this is true especially of spiritual creatures (i.e., humans and angels), who are predestined to enter into theosis where, in the eschaton, God will be known completely in His condescension, and God will know human persons in their ascension through Christ.

This “pre-destination knowledge” of God is from His knowledge of all creatures as their Cause. But the fact remains that deification in love requires free will, and there are some who refuse the gift of deification. Staniloae states here, about God’s foreknowledge of those who refuse: “The foreknowledge of God in regard to those who will go to eternal punishment consists only in the fact that he does not see them in their final unity with himself, a unity which for him is present even before it comes about in reality” (p208).

Obviously, this perfected and complete knowledge of God by man, and knowledge of man by God, occurs in Christ. The infinity of the divine nature “shines” through the finitude of human nature, as Christ’s humanity is utterly transparent to “the abyss of divine existence” (p210). Humans, then, can grow in the infinite knowledge of God through their solidarity with Christ, whose “hypostasis is open to all,” and thus “all can love and know each other as themselves” (p210).

What of wisdom? Is there a separation between the term “wisdom” and “knowledge”? In a word: no. Staniloae contends that the Fathers do not make a distinction between the terms, clearly using the term “wisdom” when applied to God far more often than “knowledge.” It is interesting that “wisdom” is used as a noun, and “knowledge” — for God — is used to describe an act.

Neither is there any separation between God’s “theoretical” and “practical” knowledge. We can know nothing of God’s knowledge of Himself as distinct from His relationship to the world: this would be knowledge of His essence, about which it is impossible for creatures to know. Thus, in Orthodoxy, there is no scholastic distinction between God’s “knowledge” as a theoretical occupation and His “wisdom” as pertaining to a practical occupation. All of knowledge and wisdom that pertains to God is “economic,” and “practical.”

Staniloae reserves a special sense of the word “wisdom” to describe the “plan of God regarding the world” for its salvation. This, it seems to me, is Staniloae’s meditation upon the corpus of wisdom literature in Scripture, and, by extension, to the tradition of dogmatic theology in the Christian Church that stems from the Gospel kerygma of the apostles.

It may also be — and here, I only speculate — Staniloae’s implicit response to the sophia trend within Russian theology (i.e., Solovyov, Bulgakov, Florensky et al) that may have isolated wisdom from its real context of salvation.

True wisdom is meaningful only in terms of salvation, the economy of the Trinity with regard to the world. Wisdom perceives the goodness of God in creating and sustaining a harmony of creation:

“God’s wisdom is not only his coming down to the world, to everyone and everything within it; it is also a totality of actions adequate to raise the world up continuously to a common and harmonious participation in the divine life and happiness” (p213)

God’s wisdom will often seem “at odds” with the wisdom of the world — a sharp distinction that St Paul draws in 1 Corinthians. God’s wisdom hardly contradicts the order of the world, because it not only founds it, but restores and completes the world’s wisdom. But because it corrects the fallen state (and the wisdom that is based upon that fallenness), God’s wisdom will often seem opposed to worldly wisdom.

Against the atomistic, reductionistic and materialistic wisdom of the world, God’s wisdom “reestablishes the human being with the higher and complex order of normal interpersonal relations sustained by the dialogue with God, a dialogue of endless exactingness, subtlety, and complexity, a dialogue that can shape even the order of nature in a higher direction” (p213).

I conclude this section with this long rhapsodic quote from Staniloae about God’s wisdom:

“What an abyss of wisdom is hidden in the incarnation of the Son of God as man, the one who opens up the prospect of an eternally deified life, an eternal and unutterable glory for the human being! Saint Paul the Apostle prays that the spirit of this wisdom may be given to the Christians of Ephesus so they might understand “what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ep 1.18). What an abyss of wisdom is hidden in the fact that through the incarnation, one and the same person is both God and man at the same time, bearing in himself, as in all of us as well, the spiritual life of the human being and deepening it to the very measure of the divine infinity! What an abyss of wisdom is hidden in the cross and in the suffering that the very Son of God takes on himself for us, to make of it in our case too — through the renunciation of himself and the patience implied in it — the condition of our higher life, that is, of the relations between ourselves and God! What an abyss of wisdom is found in the prospect of eternal life, the prospect of resurrection thrown open and bestowed on us in Christ’s resurrection! What endless depths of blessed meaning does the wisdom shown in the economy of Christ give to the order of the world, a world that by itself would remain fragmented in meaning and lead us nowhere! Within what limitless growth of meaning is God revealed to us as Person or Trinity of persons and as one who enters through the warmth of the endless communion of which he is capable into a relationship of love with us as persons, especially when compared with the simplistic, monotonous and life ‘god’ conceived according to the type of nature!

“In the kenosis of love which only God as person can assume there is revealed to us, if we let ourselves be conquered by this love, what Saint Paul says: ‘that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fulness of God’ (Ep 3.17-19).

“Wisdom in this sense can have no other basis than the perfection of the Trinitarian communion. Through wisdom God wants to lead all things toward the perfection that radiates from that communion. Among us wisdom itself radiates from the intertrinitarian communion. The ‘One,’ in the abstract sense proper to some philosophies [e.g., Plotinus], cannot be wise. Where there is no interpersonal relationship, there is no balance and measure but exaggerating tendencies on one side and exclusivism. It is only life together that implies or demands the efforts made to achieve wisdom.

“What we come to know in the course of our earthly life on the basis of the order of nature, and what we come to understand from the order of human spiritual life and even from the divine saving acts in our regard are only obscure rays from the knowledge and wisdom we can have here, a knowledge and a wisdom that guide us towards their full appropriation in our future union with God” (pp213-214).


It is just like Staniloae to combine two seemingly opposite qualities — justice and mercy — into an inseparable bond.

Justice, on one hand, is founded upon “the equality of the Trinitarian persons” (p215). It is from this essential equality that God expects that “all men might be equal among themselves” (p215). Mercy, on the other hand, cannot not be separated from divine justice — and thus it cannot be “forced” upon someone who does not want it. At that same time, however, God’s justice is never divorced from His mercy: divine love is at the base of justice, and thus any image of God as “impartial judge” in a juridical setting is a rhetorical image and may not be extrapolated into actual doctrine.

Justice is not an abstract idea, or a “standard” separate from or abstracted away from God Himself — to the point, one might presume, toward which God might have to work so perfectly that Hs is God because He is perfectly just. Quite the contrary, Staniloae states that “God does not begin from an idea of justice but from the reality of justice in himself” (p215).

Justice is an energy of God, and as such, it is experienced by man. It is for this simple reason that man not only feels — despite the distortions and occlusions of the Fall — justice as a “deep conviction” in his relationship to God and to his fellow man. Justice is also a reality in which man must participate. Man is not passive in the meting out of God’s justice and mercy: because justice is a “personal energy” — and because of this, it is properly called a “Name” — then all interchange is really relationship, which itself denies the possibility of complete passivity in either role of the relationship, even when one is infinitesimally less than the Other.

In other words, there is no discontinuous, abjectly “alien” presence of the energy of God. God’s justice, based upon and sustained by the equality of the Three Persons, is extended universally and omnipotently to all Creation, and works personally through the spirituality of each person. Thus there is no possibility for concepts like “irresistible grace” or “predetermined history.”

Staniloae is clear that justice is fundamentally based upon equality of God, and thus, as an energy, equality of man. The spiritual aspect of equality remains always essential, as the “most precious goods are spiritual goods and it is on these that his salvation depends, not on the material ones” (p217). But repeatedly, he emphasizes that “Man can demand justice, especially from his neighbors, for himself and for others … and in doing this he can take his stand on the fact that God created all men with the right to enjoy equally the goods that he gave them through creation, goods which can be increased through their own efforts” (pp216-217).

Here, especially, Staniloae establishes human ethics and politics as firmly inseparable from theology — even to the point of the perichoretic relations within the Trinity!

Justice is crucially and climactically centered on Christ — as true God become true Man (i.e., the “Son of Man,” a term, I think, which means exactly that). So Christ as Man has succeeded in experiencing and appropriating the perfection of this divine energy within the contours of human nature. As this human perfection, which is transparent of the divine nature in beautiful glory, human communicants can participate in this perfect justice in their existence through inclusion and voluntary (via their own kenosis) in the Body of Christ.


Holiness is an energy that, more than all the other “names,” manifests in creation the utter transcendence of the Creator. This manifestation is experienced as an almost empirical “proof” of the existence of a transcendent order. In Staniloae’s discussion of this experience of transcendence, we hear echoes of Mircea Eliade’s “wholly Other” and Rudolf Otto’s “numinous,” or mysterium tremendum). The numinous, Staniloae says, “is to be experienced nowhere more directly than in the holiness which envelops God’s revealing of himself … In [holiness] there is concentrated all that distinguishes God from the world” (pp222-223).

But after this often-terrifying experience, which constitutes the “fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom,” there follows upon that experience of happiness, freedom, and a greater desire for purity and a deeper communion with God.

Again, such a desire after terror (e.g., think of the Prophet Isaiah’s experience in the Temple in Isaiah 6) that is so powerful is possible only if holiness were the presence of Person, Supreme though the Trinity is. Only Person could attract such powerful desire.

Accordingly, this line is particularly appealing: “Man is captivated by the charm of his true being” (p223). Nowhere have I read such a bon mot with regard to holiness. Usually, holiness is denatured into a tiresome discussion of legalistic (and privatistic) social mores. Or, it is reframed into an analysis within the rubrics of a philosophy of religion.

But to hear about holiness as not only numinous but also personal energy, in terms of an I-Thou relationship as realized in the agency of a hypostasized Third — that is to hear something new in contemporary dogmatics. No less a figure than Bishop Kallistos Ware, writing in the foreword, noted that most dogmatic texts (Pomozansky, for one) gloss over the Palamite emphasis upon the distinction of God’s essence from His energies. I would add, too, that Romanides and, perhaps, Vlachos treat Palamas with much more priority, but do not extend this dogma to its logical and enormous existential implications. Staniloae does, and does so in particular in this discussion of holiness.

After the Cross and Resurrection (and really, the Incarnation as a whole), the experience of holiness is no longer confined to a location or a particular fragment of human history. It is now thrown open wide as a real possibility for all humanity. Harvey Cox (Harvard theologian, in The Secular City) asserted that the “sacred” had been abolished at the Cross, and Christians were now to enter the secular realm (imaged as the modern city) as the only existential possibility.

Contrary to this notion, Staniloae says that instead of “universal secularization,” it is the possibility of holiness that is open to all. All Christians are described by St Paul as “saints,” especially “… if they preserve their consciousness of the fact that, at baptism, Christ too up his dwelling with them and if, with the help of the grace of baptism and of the other sacraments, they struggle for purification” (p225).

Insofar as Christians participate in the Holy Spirit’s energy of holiness can they recover their natural state as “subject” in their own existence. Man is restored through God’s holiness by entering into a great likeness of man with God. The passions are purified, and are displaced by the adoption of virtues — all of which (i.e., the virtues) culminate in love (p226). This “likeness” (which is recognized, ultimately, as “theosis”) “… means a radiation of the presence of God from within man.”

Staniloae continues this theme of theosis as interpersonal communion between man-as-creature and the God transcendent, but also God as analogically-experienced Creator: “In those who love one another and are found with a reciprocal interiority, the face of the one is stamped with the fatures of the other and these features shine forth actively from within him. Now inasmuch as these divine features are growing and foreshadowing the full degree in which they will overwhelm the human features, the faces of the saints even on earth have something of the eschatological plane of eternity in their appearance, that plane through which God’s features will be fully reflected and his energies will radiate” (p226).

In that age to come, all creation will become utterly transparent to the beauty that is the glory of the Holy Trinity. The saints — and sacraments — are bearing that eschatological glory even now. Why are some people saints, and thus bearing that glory, and other people are not? It is strictly because they respond to the holiness of God, accepting it and working with it freely in purification and in the free acts of loving self-donation.

And, in the final analysis, a saint is a saint because she or he is willing to make their existence entirely consonant with their essence: in other words, they become fully human, and therefore free.

But all this comes at a price of self-donation, or — as Staniloae puts it — transcendence of ego. This is the true meaning of sacrifice. It is not the sacrifice of pagans, which was always a violent exchange of capital for the benefit of stemming, temporarily, the tide of dark chaos outside the city.

In a poignant meditation upon St Cyril of Alexandria’s relatively overlooked treatise, Adoration and Worship in Spirit and in Truth, Staniloae insists that holiness assumes sacrifice: whoever passes through sacrifice pass into the state of holiness. “By the very fact that Christians,” he writes, “give themselves to God or sacrifice themselves to him — meaning their complete self-offering as subjects to the divine subject — they become saints, are enveloped in the holiness or self-giving purity of God and open themselves to it.” But Staniloae emphasizes the centrality of Christ in holiness: “But they are able to sacrifice themselves in a manner that is pure or entire only if they partake of the pure or entire sacrifice of Christ who, by sacrificing or offering himself as man to the Father in total purity, has consecrated himself so that we too may be consecrated through our union with him in a state of sacrifice” (p229).

There is, then, no Christianity without holiness, since all Christians are called to sainthood. And there is no holiness without sacrifice and self-transcendence. But holiness as desire — which is a radically Christian thought — is possible only in terms of “surrender to absolute Person.”

This “surrender to absolute Person is a sanctifying self-sacrifice, for it is a transcending of self which goes beyond all that is relative. Any human being who is lifted up beyond himself towards supreme Person and offers himself to him, thereby renounces himself and tramples under foot all that is selfish or mean, all that is merely narrow interest or appetite directed passionately towards finite things, and thus he is consecrated and enters through that Person into a fully unlimited condition and complete freedom. He is consecrated because he forgets himself and is raised beyond himself in his own genuinely free communication with absolute Person and on the basis of the power of this absolute Person which comes from his side to meet him in the encounter. But since in this way the person realizes his own self in the most authentic manner, holiness — from our point of view — can be said to the the most fitting realization of the human, the discovery and valuing of its most intimate sanctuary” (p231).

And because he is lifted up above the narrow confines of fallen ego-centricity, the saint now radiates holiness into his own world:

“God wants the whole world to be filled with saints; he wants the whole world to be sanctified so that his holiness may be seen and glorified everywhere in the world and the world become a new heaven and a new earth where justice — that is, fidelity, openness, holiness — abides because it has been extended into the world from the Holy Trinity” (p238).


It may be obvious, by now, that all the energies are inseparable, and are not known except with reference to the others. This note is truest with love, which is the culmination of all energies, and is the highest “name.” Holiness, justice, omniscience are known most immediately as love, and then too, the super-essential formal attributes comprise the lineaments or contours of love.

So love as an attribute — remembering that for Staniloae (following Dionysios and Maximus especially), “love” and “goodness” are synonymous — is the summary of all the energies.

Love is always most personal.

And perhaps, it could be said that God is most personal in love.

This might become clear when Staniloae suggests that goodness is best understood in the context of eros, or desire. He reminds us that Dionysios knew no difference between eros, agape and goodness: for him, it was all one: “The sacred writers lift up a hymn of praise to this Good. They call it beautiful, beauty, love and beloved” (The Divine Names, 4.7, cited in Staniloae, p239).

“What is signified,” Dionysios continues, “is a capacity to effect a unity, an alliance, and a particular commingling in the Beautiful and the Good” (The Divine Names, 4.7).

Breath-taking, that.

Staniloae explains: “The unifying force of good, or of love, or of eros lies in the fact that the divine yearning (eros) ‘brings ecstasy so that the lover belongs not to self but to the beloved’ (The Divine Names, 4.13). This tendency, whether it is called good or agape or eros, does not merely urge the creature toward God, but also God towards the creature” (p239).

Again, this is a re-narration of Dionysios, and also Maximos, in a new modern elaboration. Love has not been so described in modernity: this is a dogmatic rhetoric of love, in the rubrics of the “neo-patristic synthesis”:

“In [the] reciprocal, total, and hence stable going out of the divine persons the possibility is given of their common movement towards persons creatures, while love is realized as the going out of each towards the other. God desires to reach the created person, or his union with him, not only through his ecstasy towards the person, but also through the person’s ecstasy towards him. Although the creature by its nature exists in God, because of its inadequate love it remains at a distance form him, and for this reason he empties himself by coming down to the creature and by accepting that the creature has its place at a certain distance from himself, and that to the overcoming of this distance the person should also make a willing contribution [i.e., of his own totality of his experience, his own world]. For in order to bring about a love with created being too, God brought into existence not only a world of objects, but also a world of subjects who exist before his face at a distance which they can make either smaller or larger.

“God’s wish is that the interval (diastasis) between himself and these persons be overcome not only through his movement, but also through their own free movement towards him” (p241).

Colligite quae superaverunt fragmenta ne perean.

Infinity, Eternity, Supraspatiality and Omnipotence: Staniloae on the Super-Essential Attributes of God


Neagoe Basarab and his wife, Milica Despina;
Below (from the left to the right): Petru, Ioan, Teodosie, Angelina, Ruxandra and Stana, their children.
The worthy Voivode Neagoe will be, toward the end,
cited with less than unbridled  enthusiasm.

(reflections on the 8th chapter of Staniloae’s The Experience of God)

Salvation is the only reason for theological thinking. Theology cannot be an activity without this being the ultimate concern. If theology were only a series of facts, or even propositions, then it would be information, but not theology.

On the other hand, theology is, in its widest sense, salvation itself. Knowing God — that is, detaching our attention from lesser things, recognizing His beauty in all creation and finally entering into complete communion with the Holy Trinity — comprises spirituality. In turn, spirituality is the experience of, and is aimed at, nothing less than the deification of the the soul, and with it the body: only in this sense can we say, with confidence, that salvation is deification, and deification is salvation through the Cross.

Fr Dumitru Staniloae, mainly following St Maximos the Confessor, puts salvation at the very center of his dogmatic theology. But salvation is presented here in terms of a completely realized communion of Persons.

What does such a “communion” mean? Here, Fr Dumitru describes “love” as the “indwelling” of one person with the other. Within the Trinity, the communion of one Divine Person with the others is infinitely full and complete — and that very communion is the essence that is unknown and infinitely transcendent of creaturely experience and knowledge (human and angelic).

For the Trinity, this infinitely complete indwelling is called “perichoresis,” or “co-inherence.” It is the foundational reality upon which all creaturely reality is based, relies upon in the present, and is destined towards in the future.

For creatures who are spiritual (i.e., “noetic”, and therefore includes angelic and human beings), they too experience an indwelling with the God as “Supreme Person” or with other creaturely persons. This indwelling is real, and can surmount the distances of time and space. In such an indwelling that is love, it is spiritually real (a surmounting of time) that persons can be present with each other, despite their spatial separation.

It is for complete indwelling between God and His spiritual creatures (and, by extension, all of creation, even the non-spiritual) that God’s “attributes” both form and inform creation. One of Staniloae’s great achievements is his central emphasis upon deification as the first, formal and final cause of all creation. It is because of salvation, in other words, that time and space exist.

Here we arrive at a difficult distinction between what Staniloae calls the “super-essential attributes of God,” and the “spiritual attributes of God” (which will be taken up in the following chapter). Staniloae associates the spiritual attributes of God with the divine essence, which is the source and sustenance of knowledge, justice, purity and — especially — love.

Staniloae differentiates these “spiritual” attributes from those attributes which proceed from God’s uncreated energy. Such an attribute is what he describes as a “formal attribute of his existence” (p199).

The formal attributes are also less apophatic than the spiritual ones. They can be “conceived from a formal point of view … freed from the aspect of insufficiency and from the formal development that [creatures] possess” (p198). These formal attributes are the summary names of those operations that create, sustain and perfect the world.

I assume here, then, that the super-essential attributes of God are more perceivable through what we usually call “general revelation” — and here we should probably call to mind Staniloae’s insistence upon the providential character of all revelation and all knowledge.

These “formal” attributes, listed in order, are Infinity, Eternity, Supraspatiality and Omnipotence. In each attribute, Staniloae pursues a common theme: God creates distance for love, sustains distance for love, and calls the creature to the surmounting of all distance for love. And in each attribute, Staniloae describes how the form of creaturely existence is utterly contingent upon the divine formal attribute — beyond which God is utterly transcendent — and how the telos — or destiny — in each form becomes the real moral choice, or work, of life.

Divine Infinity is the reason and source and goal of all “finitude” — a term that applies to all creatureliness. In infinity all intervals collapse: thus, “there is no time in infinity. Everything is possessed in a continuous present” (p142).

God in Three Persons infinitely indwell each other in perfect communion: and so in the Trinity, there is no distance. In His complete freedom, God creates other “finite” persons with a desire for the infinite that cannot be disregarded, since that very desire is rooted in the image of God. Every human essentially desires infinity, and this desire should  move them through the experience of the finite order.

It is only the free and willing achievement of this desire God, through the process of deification and attainment of theosis, that even the human — even in his materiality — can experience the infinite. It is of course only because God called the finite to the infinite that the spiritual creature proceeds, and journeys through these temporal and spatial phenomena.

Infinity itself is not God — for to say so would be to say that God is essentially infinite. God, however, transcends all His attributes. Staniloae writes this lovely line: “Infinity is God’s ambiance and through it he makes himself accessible or communicates himself to creatures which have reached union with him as supreme subject” (p143).

It is at the Resurrection that the human nature of Christ was raised to “the supreme participation in the divine infinity; it understood the Godhead that is beyond understanding and fully enjoyed the divine energies imprinted on its human energies. And in union with Christ all those who believe are raised to this same participation in the divine infinity” (p144).

For Staniloae, the meaning of infinity is salvation. And because of salvation — the desire of God for full communion with His creation — the operation of infinity upon creation produces finiteness. Even so, the operation of eternity produces the intervals of time, which is experienced by angels and humans. The operation of supraspatiality produces space, which is experienced by humans and the rest of the material universe. And finally, the operation of omnipotence produces self-donation, or kenosis.

It is interesting here, in the context of infinity, that Staniloae discusses the “simplicity” of God, and treats the philosophical issue of “the one and the many.” He establishes a remarkable link between the essential simplicity of the Person, and the ultimate simplicity of Creation. It is through the intervals of time and space that Creation is brought — through the mediation of defied humanity — from its primordial distance into the union of simplicity, without any destruction of difference. Even though Staniloae himself does not say this, it is the peculiar Christian message that only in Christ can there be “difference without negative distance” — “negative distance,” that is, a difference in isolation, alienation, absence.

The opposite of simplicity is complexity. And in Staniloae’s thought, complexity is not only the Aristotelian admixture of different elements, but more importantly a fragmentation, a retrogressive disregard of the unity of the Trinity and an opposite exile into “divisions and rents within fallen human nature.” “This complexity is false because it moves with the same essential monotony as that of the passions which thereby reveal a dissatisfaction with what is finite, or what might be better called an ‘infinity’ of the finite” (p149).

It almost seems as though Staniloae were portraying an extrusion of hell into present life as he reflects on the psycho-linguistic regression of complexity:

“And all of this [infinity of the finite] inside a labyrinth whose infinite twisting paths turn back in the same limitation and give rise to a language which is more and more complicated, nuanced, and diverse, but complicated and nuanced within the confines of a dead end, projecting no light from beyond itself. This is that hell which is closed within monotonous composition and deepens this composition into splintering divisions and ‘infinite’ complexity. It resembles a body that is, on the one hand, indestructible, but is being macerated ad infinitum on the other” (p167).

This chapter is remarkable: even in the context of this remarkable book. In the space of these pages is a modern re-narration of St Maximos into the framework of modernist questions: What is space and time? What is power and infinity? Where did these realities come from? Where are they going? How do they relate to the person, and to his consciousness?

It is all the more remarkable because I do not know if Fr Dumitru was aware of the anthropocentric theories of astrophysics and quantum mechanics, where the place of the human consciousness has been observed to occupy a critical centrality in existence, as scientifically observed.

And I suspect that Fr Dumitru, if he were told this, would aver quietly that St Maximus was there all along.

For my part, I harbor some reservations about this chapter. In his discussion about time and eternity, the author poignantly describes the Father, as depicted in the parable of the Prodigal Son, as the One Who waits in expectation for humanity to ascend in deification to His embrace. And from that expectation is the fact that the Cross is the unavoidable threshold of human existence moving from the infernal regression of yesterday into the only true existence of deification.

This I rejoice in. But I wonder why the author is so emphatic about the continued suffering of the Son (albeit in His passable human nature?) until the Last Day. He quotes approvingly, claiming the support of St John Chrysostom and St Maximus, the intriguing formulation of Blaise Pascal: “Jésus sera en agonie jusqu’à la fin du monde” (i.e., “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world”). That may or may not have patristic support, but it seems to this writer that the Cross is the End (and summation) of all violence and suffering.

Also, in his discussion about spatiality, the author describes the inferno astutely, going beyond the usual (and tiresome) platitudes of juridical punishment. However, he emphasizes hell as a somewhat crowded place (p179, especially) where the unrepentant soul is tortured by the presence of demons and enemies. He cites approvingly an old 16th century Wallachian noble (Neagoe Basarab), who writes to his son Theodosius that while Heaven will consist of looking upon the face of Christ, Hell will consist of looking upon the face of Satan.

Frankly, this view of perdition — even by Staniloae — gives off more than a whiff of dualism.

But Staniloae is certainly no dualist. His own discussion of Omnipotence at the end of the chapter confirms this. God is Absolute, but He is absolutely Good. He is identified primarily as “Father” in the Creed, immediately after the faithful confess their belief in God.

So deeply linked are God’s being and God’s goodness, that it is impossible to suggest an arbitrary possibility where God could ever act otherwise. If one is ever troubled by the clever, and sophomoric, paradoxical trick question “If God is all-powerful, then whatever He does is good by definition, then can He make someone be good (or evil), even against their will?” …

… then he can answer simply, “No.” Actually, there are many things that God cannot do — as many as there are persons whose freedom God chooses — kenotically — not to violate.

God will always love and will always call His creation to enter into full communion with Him. However, God will always respect the spiritual freedom of His creature to accept that Divine condescension and to rise in Grace, or to reject the Gift and to descend, infinitely, into meaningless individuality, into an increasingly fractured division toward nothing but never actually getting there.

Hell will not be gazing upon the face of Satan, because he is the first inventor of the hell of self-regard, and doesn’t give a damn about anyone else. Hell will be no one else’s face, but only a mirror.

Heaven will be — or rather is, and always is — the joyous gaze of person upon Supreme Person, in the beautiful analogy of the co-inherent fellowship of the Trinity.

Memory Eternal!

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 5.11.51 PMThere is a group that I chat with frequently.  It consists of several priests and a layperson, three intellectuals and one wannabe (that would be me).  We talk about topics far-ranging and fascinating, from patristics to theology to musical tastes to some of the best poetry known to man (I admit, they lose me there…).  Last Friday, after the rest of the gang went off to bed, a discussion was continued between two of us about the need to revisit the Orthodox funeral service.  I’m not going to get into details, but the main point was that there should be less emphasis on being food for worms and a greater emphasis on resurrection, and the new heaven and the new earth – the major points of emphasis found in the New Testament, but not so clear in the Orthodox funeral service.

My partner in conversation was Fr. Matthew Baker.  How sadly ironic that eight days after our discussion that service will be said for him.

I had only known Fr. Matthew for half a year.  He and I were introduced through mutual friends and through a mutual interest in many things: Maximos the Confessor, T. F. Torrance, Kate Bush and beer to name a few.  Intellectually, I was nowhere near his equal.  He pushed me, but I never felt that he was condescending.  And as soon as we were introduced, every conversation was full-bore.  We were friends, brothers, and concelebrants.  He asked me to read a particularly challenging chapter of his dissertation, which I did but honestly quickly found myself wondering if I was going to be able to help him in any way.  His thoughts were complicated, his thesis rather groundbreaking.  Yet I did what I could to be of aid, making a few comments that were really more surface-level rather than anything more incisive.  We both promised to revisit that chapter in the near future.

He asked me to come visit him when I was going to be in Boston for our National Convention in July, maybe serve a liturgy together.  I asked him to come to Pittsburgh and visit us for whatever reason he could think up.  I dearly wanted him to come to Pittsburgh and talk to us, the Orthodox clergy and laity.  We needed to hear what he had to say.  But honestly all I wanted to do is have a beer and hang out with a friend.

Our last conversation included a request to exchange phone numbers so that we could talk as opposed to being locked behind a keyboard.  I valued his intellect, his enthusiasm, his compassion so much, he respected my years of experience as a parish priest and my ways of ministering to the flock with which I was entrusted.  Yes, that very last conversation actually said we need to converse more.  Some forty hours later he was gone.

It is still hard to come to terms with his passing.  It will be made real when I’m up at midnight or so and looking for a conversation partner to spend some time in conversation.  Then the silence will serve to remind me.

Yet out of this tragedy some good appears, like a crocus poking though a late spring snow.  The generosity shown to the Baker clan though this site and now this one shows the depth of compassion of their Internet “family” and also the depth of love and friendship people have for Father Matthew and for his family.  Thank God.

And then there are those of us who, with strengthened purpose, wish to carry on his legacy.  His concerns will now become part of our own.  His love of the faith and his scholarship will become a part of the work that we do, and may we be worthy inheritors of the same.

Memory eternal, the Presbyter Matthew:  my friend, my brother and my concelebrant.

Memory Eternal Fr. Matthew Baker


The loss of Fr Matthew Baker to our small Fellowship is inestimable. He was for me, personally, one of the great hopes for articulating the theological vision that we try to articulate here at the Fellowship. He was also one of my closest friends. His scholarship, priesthood, and friendship will be missed by us. More importantly he will be missed by his wonderful widow and his incredible children. Our Church has suffered greatly in losing this incredible man.

Please join us in mourning him and praying for the repose of his soul.

Please if you can help his family with a monetary donation.

Who Fr Matthew was has been captured very well in Fr. Andrew’s post here, “We need more Spiritual Brothers” and by Heirodeacon Herman here, “The Life of Fr. Matthew Baker is a Triumph of Orthodoxy“.

We have an incredible inheritance to live up to in the work that Fr. Matthew left for us. Let us be found worthy of this calling.

The Operations of God (chapter 7 of Staniloae’s “Experience of God”)


The next few chapters of The Experience of God are Staniloae’s extended commentary and refining of the essential points made in the sixth chapter. In chapter seven Staniloae addresses the particular claims of the Orthodox tradition’s insistence upon the distinction between the essence and energies of God. Thankfully the English translator employs the word “operation” instead of “energy” (this may just be a peculiarity of Staniloae’s own Romanian?). I have found it difficult expressing the gist of this infamous doctrine when using the word “energy”. The word alone seems to imply powers residing within the infinite Godhead, or to be somewhat cartoonish, to imply that God is enveloped by some sort of “energy field”. I believe in employing the word “operation” there is an allowance for an English speaker to understand the dynamic nature of the energies of God and their specific relationship to the created world. God’s operations are God’s dynamic and unceasing work of sustaining and guiding His creation towards union with Himself. This cosmological and eschatological point of view seems to me to be the difference between Staniloae and other modern Orthodox interpreter’s of the operations of God.

Staniloae is not specifically affixed to the issues of existential knowledge vs. rationalistic knowledge being the point of the doctrine concerning operations of God – at least not in this chapter. I mention this fact because this point is what I perceive to be what many modern Orthodox thinkers argue is the crux of the doctrine and therefore a definitive difference with the Western theological tradition. Staniloae’s presentation here is a refreshing approach to understanding how God maintains God’s freedom and transcendence from the world all the while being actively sustaining and working within the world to bring it and humanity into communion with God. Typical to Staniloae’s treatment of the primary doctrines of the Orthodox Church, Staniloae has refracted this doctrine through his specific concern with the created order and its telos in God. Unlike Lossky and other modern interpreters of Palamas there is not in Staniloae a supreme focus on epistemological issues. Rather the focus of Staniloae is trained on seeing the doctrine of the essence and operations of God within the structures of “theosis” – the graced cosmos, the sacraments, and the myriad nature of human experience.

In another source Staniloae insists “Christianity must emphasize today the value and the mystery of man and the world in a special way, in order to save man from a grave moral decadence and a remarkable egoism in interhuman relations; and to save the world from total catastrophe”.[1] In discussing this chapter I want to point to two interrelated points brought out within this specific chapter and how the doctrine of the essence and energies/operations of God figures into Staniloae’s theological vision. Those two points are God’s meaningful and rationally structured creation and humanity’s place within it and the importance of Divine and human personhood and freedom. These two points reiterate Staniloae’s insistence upon what Christians must emphasize in our modern context. Let us first turn to the mystery of man and the world.

God’s attributes can be categorized in various ways. God is “good”, “just”, or “merciful”. We do not experience these attributes as abstract ideas. Rather, we experience these attributes in a myriad of ways throughout our life. We experience the “pressure” of God through various occurrences and people who are providential supplied to us. In other words, we experience God’s operations within the world as a continuous symphony – not in a single ravishing transcendent experience. Staniloae states: “Through his attributes God makes something of his being evident to us, but this something is made specific within one vast and uninterrupted symphony of continually new acts that guide creation and each element of it separately towards the final goal of full union with him” (128). The operations of God we experience are fully God, yet God is infinitely beyond our experience. I say “beyond” because we do experience God through his operations in the world, however words fail in “capturing” God. “[T]he mystery of the personal reality of God is experience, properly speaking, through the renunciation of all the words that point to the attributes and operations of God directed toward us” (129).

God stands above creation. The triune God is super-essential – existing in a superior mode to creation. God does not rely on anything, is not encompassed by a system of references, or need to participate in anything in order to exist. God’s triune life is “act or power” and he possesses all of his own attributes unaided by created reality. It may be helpful to consider this through an analogy. The operations of God in the world are like a ladder. We experience God’s goodness in varied degrees throughout our life and it is through these experiences that we taste God’s goodness. We have not “grasped” God within our own machinations or experiences. Rather our experiences have provided us with a sign that points us towards the person of God. What Staniloae has done to help me understand this doctrine is to put God’s governance into the framework of the operations of God. It is not an abstract discussion of God’s specific names or attributes that we may meditate on and by grace or will sling ourselves up towards the transcendent. It is out of the over-abundant love of God that He governs and leads our lives through various levels of communication with us. He operates or communicates to us through the encouragement of others, through the testament of Scripture, through the lives of the Saints, or as in the case of St. Poryphorios, even in the song of a nightingale. This is so because God has in creating us not abandoned us, but continues to sustain, guide, and communicate to us through the created symbolic order that is the cosmos in which we live, move, and have our very being.

The transcendence of God is key for Staniloae for two reasons. The first reason is the reality of monotheism, God is beyond the created order and this is a good for creation. All of reality flows from the will of the Triune God, not out of necessity but out of God’s freely chosen act of creating, sustaining, and ultimately redeeming reality. This grounds Staniloae’s “apophatic personhood”. What grounds reality is the fact of the divine persons of the Godhead have created not out of necessity but out of love. If it were otherwise meaning and difference would collapse. Divine super-essential persons sustain reality. Second, this transcendence is actually extremely important for humanity. Being made in the image of God we participate in the mystery of personhood, specifically the gift of freedom. In fact, for Staniloae it is the reality of the transcendence of the divine Personal reality that “assures the existence of human persons who are not totally enclosed within nature’s system of references (once God secures for them this liberty). Otherwise everything would fall under the rule of the meaningless laws of nature and death” (138). The transcendent reality of the essence of God has become for Staniloae the lynchpin in securing human freedom and therefore morality. The world is meaningful because it flows out of the Divine community of love. The world is going somewhere and for a real purpose, namely, personal communion with God.

Staniloae’s weaving of the doctrine about the operations and essence of God has been tuned to the contemporary issues of scientism, nihilism, and utilitarianism. We must affirm the transcendence of the Creator in order to secure the freedom of the human being. This affirmation is an affirmation of moral and cosmic significance. In fact, to separate the cosmic from the moral is to make a serious error. We experience God through the “pressure” of every day existence. It is in and through our varied experiences we are able to experience God’s guidance of the cosmos into communion with Himself.

[1] Charles Miller, Gift of the World: An Introduction to the Theology of Dumitru Staniloae, 55.

The Body of the Living Christ: Ecclesiology in the Thought of Father Georges Florovsky

g_florovskyAn excellent essay by Father Matthew Baker, presented at Princeton Theological Seminary in February, 2012:

The Body of the Living Christ: Ecclesiology in the Thought of Father Georges Florovsky


As one recent commentator has remarked, “attempting to remain firmly within the Orthodox tradition, Florovsky, in facing new situations of the early twentieth century, came to a novel and creative formulation of the Church.” And yet, “understanding Florovsky’s ecclesiology is not easy.” This is so, not only because his exposition was so sketch-like and occasional, but also, I might add, for Orthodox, because so many of his creative formulations have now become – albeit sometimes in vulgarized form – standard expressions.

My aim here, therefore, is to draw out some of the unique context and accents of Florovsky’s creative formulation of the doctrine of the Church, in hope of encouraging your own fresh reading. First, some little-known background in Russian cultural debates of the early 1920’s. Second, some key ecclesiological themes as they are developed in Florovsky’s essays from the late 20’s through the 1960’s. Finally, in closing, I comment briefly on Florovsky’s contribution to Orthodox and ecumenical ecclesiology today.

Ecclesiology Emerging: Church, Politics and Culture in the Eurasian Controversy

The more I study Florovsky, the more I am convinced of the importance of his early involvement with a movement which most theological treatments of his thought ignore. I refer here to Eurasianism. Though Florovsky’s Eurasian involvement was brief (only three years), some of his earliest articles were published in Eurasian anthologies between 1921 and 1923. Pre-dating his turn to patristics, Florovsky’s Eurasian engagement contains a key background to his later ecclesiology.

The Eurasians were a group of the Russian emigre intellectuals formed in the early ’20’s in Sofia under the leadership of Prince Nikolai Trubetskoi, Peter Suvchinskiy, and Florovsky’s brother-in-law, Peter Savitsky. Drawing from the Slavophiles, the Eurasians held that Russia represented a unique cultural type, standing between the two civilizations of Germano-Latin West and Far East. They queried the deep cultural sources of the Bolshevik Revolution within the broader schemes of historical development in both Russia and the West.

Eurasianism was a theory of cultural autonomy and anti-Europeanization. Borrowing a scheme from Nikolai Danilevsky’s 1869 work, Rossiya i Evropa, Trubetskoi (in his book Evropa i Chelovnost) expressed a theory of cultural morphology according to which the multi-ethnic civilizations of Russian Eurasia and Western Europe were radically incommensurable. Under the impact of Oswald Spengler’s influential book, Der Untergang der Abendlandes, some Eurasians, most notably Lev Karsavin, developed the idea that each cultural type possesses the closed unity of a distinct organism, unfolding in history according to its own immanent, pre-formed developmental laws. Any cross-civilizational hybridization here could only be an organic aberration, a freak of nature – in Spenglerian terms, a ”pseudomorphosis.” For the Eurasians, it was precisely such pseudomorphosis of Russian culture under the impact of Western rationalism that had brought about the Revolution.

Florovsky shared the Eurasian critique of Western rationalism as a cause of cultural crisis. Right away, however, he rejected, as a form of determinism, the idea of ”organic” cultural ”types” held by other Eurasians. In his 1921 essay on ”The Eternal and the Temporal in the Teaching of the Russian Slavophiles” [”Vechnoe i prehodyashchee v uchenni russkih slavyanofilov”], he diagnosed Danilevsky’s concept of cultural types as a reductionistic empiricism, a theory of culture based, not on the revelation of the highest spiritual values, but nationalism. Trubetskoi’s localism also he criticized for its cultural relativist tendencies. True, ”every ‘genius’ speaks the language and images of its environment and era, yet ‘something’ makes it transcend time and space in general.” That ”something” is the expression of the highest universal values. False nationalism lacks faith. One must follow the “lure” of the “tree of the cross,” taking one’s stand, not on the past of national tradition, but on the promise of Christ: “Be of good cheer, I have conquered the world.”

The Eurasianists were anti-communist. However, some – notably, Karsavin and Savitskii – came to support the Soviet state in hope that it would eventually shed its Marxist atheism, making the revolution but a necessary stage in the development of a new national Orthodox ”ideocracy.” Florovsky rejected both this political stance and the historical determinism used to justify it. Yet while admiring the heroism of the ”White” monarchists during the Civil War, he was also critical of their attempt to restore the pre-Revolutionary political arrangement. In a published 1922 letter to his friend Peter Struve, he described the essence of his position as the primacy of cultural consciousness over politics. Bolshevism is a cultural perversion, and thus can be overcome only by cultural means; a solution in terms of political ideology, right or left, would only be utopian and ”spiritual suicide.” Cultural resurrection could only come by the preaching of personal responsibility and inward spiritual rebirth.

In an article in the 1922 Eurasian volume, Na Putyakh, ”On Patriotism Righteous and Sinful” [”O patriotizme pravednom i grehovnom”], Florovsky urged his fellow emigres to accept the Revolution and the changed circumstances it brought as historical fact. Yet what was fact should not be approved as moral value. The Revolution was the ”result of spiritual perversion,” the progressive alienation of culture from the holiness of the Church, and the curtailing of Church activities by the post-Petrine state. So also, its devastation could be “conquered only by spiritual rebirth, only when the foundation for construction will be based on new principles.” These principles would have to be found in a new philosophical synthesis of Orthodox patristics and Western learning. Here in 1922, we see, in earliest form, the basic thesis of Florovsky’s 1937 masterwork, Puti Russkogo Bogosloviya and the germ of his later idea of neopatristic synthesis.       

The significance of ecclesiology in all this can begin to be seen in Florovsky’s last Eurasian publication. In ”Dva Zaveta” [”Two Covenants”], published in the 1923 volume Rossiya i Latinstvo, Florovsky departs from philosophical-cultural analysis to his first real ecclesiological meditation. Sounding a note he will repeat in nearly all his later ecclesiological essays, he stresses that neither Fathers nor Councils give us a complete definition of the Church. The experience of the Church is broader and deeper than defined doctrine. The Church is a new creation – an eschatological reality. To confess faith in the Church, then, is to confess this invisible new creation. But this invisible is not separated from the visible Church. The Church visible – including hierarchy and sacraments – is the historical revelation of the ”Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of Truth.”

This revelation is characterized by unity in freedom and love. Florovsky contrasts two ideals of historical unity: one, the ”unity of the Spirit,” characterized by free, personal, heroic daring; two, the ‘attempt to create ”a magically error-free organization in external obedience to a universally valid, abstract norm.” The unity of mankind in the Church stands against all grand political schemes for human transformation, which are but a ”vain deceit after the elements of this world, and not after Christ.”

It is not hard to see in this essay a growing frustration with the increasingly political direction of Eurasianism, with its idea of cultural renewal through an authoritarian ideological state. To Florovsky, the aim of translating Christian unity into a political ”the brotherhood of peoples” and ”perpetual peace” was sheer apocalyptic fantasy, a utopianism which drowned out the hope of eternal life and exposed the essentially secular nature of the ”religious social ideal.” The Slavophile dream of a homogeneous Orthodox society; the Ultramontane statism of French theocrat Joseph de Maistre; Polish national messianism; Vladimir Soloviev’s conception of ”free theocracy”: all these were a kind of socialist chilasm, an attempt to plan the kingdom of God on earth, a temporal pre-empting of the day when God will be ”all in all.” Here eschatology is reduced to a natural stage in the evolutionary logic of history; in place of personal responsibility is ”Christian politics.” As Soloviev also finally recognized in his last work, The Tale of the Antichrist, this was “the third temptation of Devil”: the reduction of the Christian hope to the “narrow circle of the visible world – limited to ‘the expectation of a complete transformation of society’.”

In contrast, Florovsky underscores, “The Christian hope is directed entirely to the Second Coming.” The Gospel cannot be deployed in a legal code regulating an ideal society. The image of God is revealed in the individual man, not the state. Yet none of this means indifference or inactivity in the world. On the contrary, the Christian hope is expressed in the love of neighbor – not only as personal deed, but also public act. Florovsky invokes the charitable examples of Sts. Juliana Lazarevskaya and Tikhon of Zadonsk: such are the carriers of religious culture, “the only possible ‘theocracy.’” This is a normative task of personal creativity, a standard – not a “system” that has ever been realized forcibly. The apostolic Church sets an example of love for enemies, kindness – not persecution – towards the heterodox. It is this that distinguishes the genuine ecclesial spirit from all authoritarian religious-political schemes. But this love is not that of a natural organism; it is the fruit of the Spirit, giving form to a ”divine-human organism.” And it is not utopian, for with hope of the Second Coming comes also acute recognition of evil. The Church knows her children wrestle not against flesh, but principalities and powers; before the judgment, she cannot imagine that God is ”all in all.” There is a real father of lies, to be driven out finally only in the ”last days,” expelled now only “by prayer and fasting,” sacraments, selfless love for others – the unity of the sacrifice on Golgotha, the unity of the one Mediator. The visible Church, the germ of the city of God, is built up in history through sacraments. ”Not ‘Christian politics,'” Florovsky concludes, ”but the ministry of the sacraments is the way of the dispensation of the kingdom of God.”

Florovsky broke with the Eurasian group in August 1923, at a meeting in Berlin. In his own words, he was ”sickened” by their ”spirit of intolerance” and ”political intrigue.” In an article of 1928, “Evraziskii soblazn” [”The Eurasian Temptation”], he registered his final critique, focusing especially on the cultural determinism entailed in the Eurasian historical morphology. The Eurasians treat each civilization as a “cultural personality” [kulturolichnost], fixed even from eternity with particular tendencies and revealed organically in the life of a people in successive incarnations, each equally natural and necessary. For Florovsky, this was a loss of the Christian philosophy of history, for which culture should be understood as revealing a people’s free spiritual life, its structure and destiny — a “morphology” for which people are creatively responsible. A philosophy marked by genuine “Christocentricism” encourages a “sensitive responsiveness to authentic historical dynamics . . . not only the organic gyre, but also creativity and sinful decay.” Such philosophy could never say that the Christian West is alien to Orthodox Russia, even with the tragic realities of schism and heresy.

The Eurasians did recognize “valuable aspects of Christianity” in the West. However, these were, in their view, “’alien to the Orthodox people” — relevant only to “Romano-Germanic” peoples. As Florovsky charged, the Eurasians feel no fraternal concern for the needs of western people, “no sense of religious and historical mutual responsibility,” being content rather with a “self-satisfied demand of ‘repentance.'” There is a real schism; yet, Florovsky stresses, one “must firmly remember the name of Christ connects Russia and Europe.” The Eurasians with their pan-Slavic/pan-Mongol attempt to form an political bloc with the non-Christian peoples of central Asia, forget this: “They are too fond of natural, geographical and ethnic lines.” In the final analysis, the Church for them resides in the state: “ecclesia in res publica, not res publica in ecclesia.”
In all this, we see Florovsky underscoring the distinction between Church and world, grace and nature, and the purely graced relation of persons to God. Organic ties of blood and culture must be, he says, “canceled” and “transubstantiated,” in a new adoptive birth within the Church. That flesh and blood cannot inherit eternal life concerns also culture. In the populist identification of Church with nation, in the notion of naturally evolving Christian culture, Florovsky sees Pelagian heresy. A culture may have Christian origins, yet “Christianity cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream.” The “churching” (ottserkovlenie) of culture is a command not achievable by any natural principle. And not everything in so-called Christian culture will find itself in the Kingdom: much will “get a share in ‘pitch darkness.’” Certainly, the Church is the goal of social development, but a goal “not of this world.” The distinction between Greek and Scythian has been removed — in baptism; the distinction between churched and un-churched world remains.

As Sergei Horuzhy has observed, it was precisely in rejecting the Eurasian temptation that Florovsky formulated his crucial distinction between the ”organic” and the ”historical,” later developed at length in his important 1930 article, ”Evolution und Epigenesis (Zur Problematik der Geschichte).” For Horuzhy, this represents a profound transformation of the secular theses of the Slavophiles and Eurasians towards a genuine Orthodox theology of culture. I would add also: towards an emerging ecclesiology. Already in these early essays, we find a Christocentric vision of the Church as a divine-human organism able to generate culture precisely and only as she transcends the natural realities of race and nation – through her purely graced, baptismal sacramental foundation, her universal scope, and her eschatological orientation towards the Kingdom of God. This vision upsets every scheme of determinism, encouraging a personalist historiosophy in which cultures are understood as being continually created through the free spiritual activity of human persons. Closely allied to this is an ecumenical concern for the unity of all those who confess the name of Christ.

Ecclesiology Made Articulate: Florovsky’s Essays on the Church

Florovsky’s first strictly theological article, ”Dom Otchii” [”House of the Father”], written in 1926, the year Florovsky began teaching patristics at St Serge, is essentially a re-write of his 1923 Eurasian essay, ”Dva Zaveta.” Yet the revision marks a significant turn. Where the earlier essay quotes Bulgakov, Schelling, and Scottish Enlightenment thinkers alongside Scripture, the 1926 essay replaces these with Church Fathers and liturgy, signaling a new, more ecclesiastical-historical approach.

A second change would follow quickly after. Upon arriving in Paris, Florovsky joined Berdyaev’s ecumenical colloquium. There he aired his first theological productions before leading Roman Catholic thinkers (Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, Gabriel Marcel), and, briefly, Protestant theologians as well. Here forward, with few exceptions, all his essays on the Church were written for ecumenical audiences: from 1928, for the St. Alban-St Sergius Fellowship; from 1937, for Faith and Order; from 1948, for the WCC. His longest ecclesiological essay, ”Le corps du Christ vivant”, was an expansion of his paper for the 1948 Amsterdam Assembly, ”The Church: Her Nature and Task.”

These two elements – the mining of patristics (what Florovsky would call ”ecumenism in time”) and conversation with the Christian West (what he would call ”ecumenism in space”) – mark the emergent context of Florovsky’s ecclesiology. And yet, precisely in this new mode, he develops themes already apparent in his early cultural criticism.

Central here is the Christocentric approach to the problem of organic unity. In his first review after moving to Paris (April 1927, Put’), Florovsky turned to the early work of the 19th century Tübingen Roman Catholic theologian, Johann Adam Moehler (1796-1838), Die Einheit in der Kirche. Florovsky praises Moehler as rediscovering the patristic sense of catholicity, an overcoming of time in which believers of all ages become contemporaries, no longer isolated in their own period. The Church, and only the Church, is an organic whole: one great body held together by love and joined in union by the Holy Spirit. Moehler describes the unity of the Church in terms borrowed from Romanticism. Yet unity for him is no facet of “organic historicism,” but a fruit of Pentecost. It is this, says Florovsky, that separates Moehler from every sort of ”romantic ‘modernism’.”

Florovsky couples Moehler with the Slavophile thinker Alexei Khomiakov (1804-1860). Both he credits for establishing the Church as an object for modern theology, bringing to the fore her organic and conciliar nature: a dynamic understanding of Church unity for which the institutional aspect is conceived as a manifestation of the her inner being, and tradition interpreted as an expression of growth and life, making the experience of the Church a source and measure for theology.

Thus, with the help of Moehler and Khomiakov, we see Florovsky here transferring the Romantic metaphor of organic unity, which he had already criticized in the Eurasians, away from the natural realities of culture and nation to the universal Church. It is this transference that explains also his own later use of Spengler’s term “pseudomorphosis” to denote the alienation of theology under neo-scholastic influence: the organism here being not national culture, but the Church, whose dogmatic consciousness is expressed chiefly in the liturgy. The language of “organism” indicates a kind of unity that is more than merely moral, legal or volitional, but ontological. And yet this unity is the sacramental work of the Spirit: it is in the Church, and only in the Church, that the ontological unity of mankind is to be found.

To call the Church a divine-human organism underscores that her unity is more than simply that of an aggregate of individuals united by common purpose, but a divinely constituted body, with definite essential structure and shape. This was a point that Florovsky would frequently reiterate especially in his ecumenical conversations with Protestants in the WCC. On the other hand, the organic metaphor contains a certain difficulty. For if the unity of the Church is not merely moral or volitional, nevertheless it does not exclude free volition of persons. In Florovsky’s philosophy of history, however, the emergence of the person, created and revealed through free historical acts, marks a hiatus between organic “nature” and “history.” The place of the person in this organic ecclesiology is therefore an open problem.

Florovsky thus makes two fundamental corrections to Moehler and Khomiakov. First of all, the unity of the Church has its principle in a person, even the Lord Jesus Christ. “The Church, as a whole, has her personal center only in Christ, she is not an incarnation of the Holy Spirit, nor is she only a Spirit-bearing community, but precisely the Body of Christ, the Incarnate Lord.” As Florovsky quotes the Roman Catholic theologian Karl Adam: “Christ, the Lord, is the proper ‘I’ of the Church.”

Ecclesiology, then, “is a chapter, and a crucial chapter, of Christology.” Florovsky asks: “Should we start just with the fact of the Church’s being a ‘Community,’ and then investigate her ‘structure’ and ‘notes’? Or should we rather start with Christ, God Incarnate, and investigate the implications of the total dogma of the Incarnation, including the glory of the Risen and Ascended Lord, who sitteth at the right hand of the Father?” Note how the ”total dogma” here includes the whole scope of Christ’s work.

Florovsky objects to the disassociation of ecclesiology from the objective work of Christ. In the tendency to begin ecclesiology with the community or with pneumatology, he says, there is a danger of collapsing into “a kind of ‘Charismatic Sociology.’”

Here his criticism is not only of Khomiakov and the early Moehler, but also of Vladimir Lossky. Reacting to the filioque, Lossky framed his ecclesiology according to a strict schematism of two economies: the work of the Son is to redeem human nature, while the Spirit sanctifies persons.

Florovsky’s objection here is that Lossky’s scheme could imply “that Christ is not dynamically present in the Church,” leading to “grave errors in the doctrine of the sacraments.” Certainly, “The Church is one in the Holy Spirit”; if her “center of unity” is Christ, “the power that effects and enacts the unity is the Spirit.” However, “the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son,” “the Spirit of Christ . . . sent by Christ from the Father,” “the Spirit of adoption” in whom “we recognize . . . that Jesus is the Lord.” It is Christ who “is continually active and acting ‘through the Spirit’ in order to recapitulate all things in himself.” “Pentecost is the mystery of the Crucified Lord.” “The work of the Spirit in believers is precisely their incorporation into Christ, their baptism into one body . . . even the body of Christ.”

Thus, Florovsky’s first correction of Romantic ecclesiology is to underscore the personal character – indeed, the corporate personality – of organic unity in the Church. Now the second correction balances this with personal diversity:

the Church is composed of human personalities, which never can be regarded merely as elements or cells of the whole, because each is in direct and immediate union with Christ and His Father – the personal is not to be sacrificed or dissolved in the corporate, Christian ‘togetherness’ must not degenerate into impersonalism. The idea of an organism must be supplemented by the idea of a symphony of personalities, in which the mystery of the Holy Trinity is reflected, and this is the core of the conception of “catholicity”.

Objectively, the Church is catholic, not quantitatively, but by nature. She is catholic because she is the Body of Christ – Christ Jesus, who is the “Last Adam,” “the measure and limit of human life,” in whom the meaning of human existence is accomplished, having “entered the pre-eternal glory . . . as Man.” Subjectively, however, catholicity remains an ascetic task, a commandment given to every Christian. “Spiritual manhood” takes the form of a “catholic transfiguration of personality,” achieved in self-renunciation, love of neighbor, and “catholic conversation with others,” in which “we enlarge our existences, we open ourselves to others, we bear them in our mind and in our heart.” Accompanying this also must be a “subjective apostolicity,” loyalty to apostolic tradition. Although Florovsky generally avoids the notion of the Church as image of the Trinity, here he suggests precisely that: in this “symphony of personalities,” in which the opposition between “I” and “not-I” is overcome, there is a created likeness of the Trinity. Those who attain to this “catholic consciousness” we call Fathers and Doctors, able to testify on behalf of all.

As we have seen, Florovsky’s ecclesiology unifies a strong affirmation of ontological unity with equal affirmation of personal diversity, freedom, and creative activity. Practically speaking, these two elements take the form of sacramental participation and ascetic struggle. In his words: “The sacraments and the ‘ordeal’ [podvig] – these are the two indissoluble and indivisible factors of the Christian life.”

Florovsky must be counted as a key figure in the modern development of eucharistic ecclesiology. As early as the late 1920’s, he maintained that “the sacraments constitute the Church.” The catholicity of each local Church is given in the Eucharist, in which the whole Church is mystically present. Ministers act “in persona Christi . . . and in and through them, the Head of the Body, is performing, continuing and accomplishing his eternal pastoral and priestly office.” It is the ascended Jesus who is the “sole priest,” “the offerer and the offered,” who, Florovsky reminds us, remains “no less man than ‘in his days with us,’ and perhaps more.” This continuing humanity of the ascended Jesus is crucial to the unity effected in the Eucharist: as Florovsky affirms, “the true communitarian spirit is possible only through mystical participation in the humanity of the incarnate Word.”

Florovsky finds a well-defined theology of history summarized in the Eucharist. As he affirms, quoting Nicholas Cabasilas, “’introduction to the mysteries is as to a kind of ‘body of history.’” This includes the “recreation” of the Church of the Old Covenant and the events of Christ’s incarnation, mystical supper, passion and death, resurrection, ascension and second coming – an anamnesis of “the entire fullness of the deeds of Divine Wisdom.” The Eucharist is the reintegration of time and, as such, an image of the last things. Florovsky speculates that the Pauline choice of the phrase soma tou Christou for the Church was suggested precisely by this Eucharistic experience. Thus constituted in the Eucharist, the Church is the continuing presence of Christ’s person, but also “a living summary” and “recapitulation of all his work.”

Florovsky’s eucharistic ecclesiology differs from that of Nicolai Afanasiev by its stress on inclusion of each local Church in the Church universal through its bishop. For Florovsky, this inclusion has an eschatological dimension. The term ekklesia applied in the Septuagint already to the twelve tribes of Israel indicates a community called out in anticipation; the reconstitution of this community around Jesus in the persons of the Twelve in Jerusalem is a sign that the days of the Messiah have arrived. Through the bishop, each local Church is joined to this eschatological community of the Twelve. It is for this reason that, although the bishop differs from his priests only by the sacramental power of ordaining, it is the bishops alone who teach decisively on behalf of the universal Church. It is because of this eschatological dimension also that Florovsky (not unlike Joseph Ratzinger) expressed some difficulty with the choice of Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, to focus ecclesiology on the image of “People of God.” Only “Body of Christ,” Florovsky argues, expresses properly the newness and the eschatological character of the Church as the very presence of the Messiah: a newness in which, through the Twelve, the Old Testament People of God is also now included, as in one ekklesia — so that Florovsky will echo Origen in saying that both testaments are new and fundamentally one in Christ. Though anticipated in Israel and founded in the mystery of the Nativity, it is in Pentecost that the Church is properly constituted – as the Body of Christ. Nevertheless, the image of the “People of God” does still have a place, insofar as it expresses the Church’s continued peregrination through history towards the Kingdom of God.

Florovsky points especially to the Epistles to the Hebrews and Ephesians as key touchstones for ecclesiology. He repairs continually to the Pauline corpus in speaking of the Church. Ultimately, however, it is Chrysostom and Augustine who provide the architectonic signature to Florovsky’s ecclesiology. From Chrysostom’s exegesis of Paul, Florovsky borrows the description of the Church as the very “complement” and pleroma – the fullness – of Christ himself. There is no separation between the head in heaven and the body of earth; yet there is a dynamism in which the historic growth of the body represents the very completion of Christ himself. In Chrysostom’s words, “Christ will be complete when his body is completed.” There is an equal emphasis here upon both the unity of head and body and their distinction, a duality expressing the eschatological tension of Christian existence.

Yet Florovsky intensifies this motif of Chrysostom with repeated reference to Augustine’s “glorious phrase”, totus Christus, caput et corpus, a formula which finally encapsulates the ultimate design of Florovsky’s ecclesiology. It seems it was the Belgian Jesuit Émile Mersch’s study Le Corps Mystique du Christ which first alerted him, in the early 1930’s, to the importance of this Augustinian concept of the “Whole Christ.” In describing the unity of the ”Whole Christ,” at once militant on earth and triumphant in heaven, Florovsky resorts to the description of the Church living in duas vitas found in Augustine’s Tractates on John, a text which he refers to as ”one of my favorite passages in the Fathers.”’ The Church is marked by a double dimensionality,” being at once in via and in statu patriae. Florovsky correlates these ”two lives” with the forma servi and forma gloriae of Christ spoken of in Philippians 2, and both pairings together with the formula of the Chalcedonian definition. As he writes: ”the ‘two lives’ are united and interrelated in the identity of subject: unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably. There is but one Church, ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ at once, humiliated and glorious at once.’ ” Totus Christus, caput et corpus inscribes a paradox of fullness and expectation, fulfillment and historical duration.

Florovsky’s debt to Augustine does not stop there. In a 1933 article on the “Limits of the Church,” Florovsky argued that contemporary Orthodox theology must integrate Augustine’s views regarding the reception of schismatics and the presence of sacraments beyond the Church’s canonical borders. The organic nature of the Church means that her charismatic sacramental activity cannot be delimited strictly to canonical boundaries. The sacramental work of Jesus the high priest and of his Spirit continues even in some schisms. The essence of schism, according to Augustine and Florovsky, is not simply legal, but rather the dissipation of the bond of love. While some commentators have claimed that this 1933 essay was but a heuristic speculation, Florovsky reiterated this same position on sacraments in schism in other articles, reviews and in private letters from early to late career. Florovsky’s debt to Augustine is quite remarkable amongst modern Orthodox theologians. In the late 50’s, in an unpublished lecture which may now be found in the audio archives of the Harvard University Library, he cited the authority of St. Photius (no Latinizer he!) for the view that Augustine was “one of the greatest saints ever given by God to his Church.” In another unpublished lecture at Fordham University in 1967, no doubt with a bit of provocation, he refers to Augustine as “the greatest Father of the Western Church, indeed of the Church universal.”

I began this paper by showing how some of Florovsky’s key ecclesiological themes grew in the context of emigré debates about culture. I should note that this interest in the relation of the Church to culture did not abate after Florovsky turned to theology proper. The Church in history is marked by a “antinomic” orientation, both towards the empire and towards the desert, neither of which must be absolutized or viewed in isolation, but always held together with its opposite as expressing the tension of existence between the times. Florovsky, however, treats Christian existence in both spheres as an ascetic task: like Sergei Bulgakov, he employs the Slav word for ascesis, podvig, beyond the sphere personal acts of piety, to describe the creative act of building up of Christian culture. As he affirms, while not everything in so-called Christian culture will perdure into the eschaton, there are indeed fruits of human cultural creativity that will not be burned up by the testing fire.

Florovsky’s Contribution to Orthodox and Ecumenical Ecclesiology

After World War II, most of Florovsky’s essays were written for various commissions and studies groups of the WCC, in which he was a key player alongside Karl Barth. Seeing that we are at the illustrious Princeton Theological Seminary, I cannot fail to mention Florovsky’s challenge to Barth. Both theologians agreed strongly on the need for a strongly Christocentric interpretation of the Church. Yet it is likely that Florovsky’s 1948 essay “The Church: Her Nature and Task” was pitched in part in response to Barth’s increasing congregationalism. Responding to Barth’s paper at a 1947 meeting in Clarens, Switzerland, “The Church: The Living Community of the Living Lord Jesus Christ,” he remarked that

in Barth’s conception there really was no Church at all: the Church was de-substantialized, it happened from time to time, its existence was reduced to some moments of definite action. This     was completely unwarranted by Holy Scripture, because the whole New Testament speaks of the enduring unity of the Church in Christ its Head, not of a Christ who now and then sends his Spirit. Reconciliation is something ontological, man brought back into reconciled unity with God. Orthodox and Catholics believe that sacraments and order are of the ‘esse’ of the Church because they put their trust, not in a human institution, but in divinely constituted realities. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is an organism with an organic structure constituted, not by man, but by God.

Florovsky had similar remarks for Emil Brunner, whom he accused of docetic tendencies. As he put it,

Christian history is, as it were, atomized in his vision. It is just a series of existential acts, performed by men, and, strangely enough, only negative acts, the acts of rebellion and resistance, seem to be integrated and solidarized. But, in fact, ecclesia is not just an aggregate of    sporadic acts, but a ‘body,’ the body of Christ.

Here we see the key role that organism plays in Florovsky’s ecclesiology – underscoring the continuity of Church structure, not an extrinsic addition, but a dimension of the very work of Christ himself. The Church is history “solidarized” – an “organic” body utterly unique, composed of free and saving historical acts. To repeat again the phrase which Florovsky borrows from St. Nicholas Cabasilas: the Church is a “’body of history.’”

With the increasing drift of the WWC towards socio-political agendas and secular mores, the ecumenical landscape has shifted. The most viable dialogue of Orthodoxy today in the West is with the Roman Church. With regard to Rome, Florovsky tended to treat the filioque as an obstacle only for its unconciliar insertion into the Creed; he rejected the view Cappadocian and Augustinian triadologies were ultimately unreconciliable. As he is reported to have said at Amsterdam in 1948, “Between the two churches, Orthodox and Catholic, there is at bottom one question, that of the Pope.” The impression one gains from Florovsky is that the central problem the Orthodox have with Rome is a false teaching regarding the nature of Church unity – although he also suggests that this false teaching is rooted in a deeper defect in Christological vision. However, Florovsky never indicated clearly what an acceptable primacy might look like. He took a serious interest in Vatican II, and was positive about the move to integrate papal primacy into a doctrine of episcopal collegiality. Yet in his view, the real theological work had only just begun. In an essay on the eve of the Council, he remarked that dialogue with Rome would require of the Orthodox a fuller development of doctrine.

On the Orthodox side, no one has contributed more to this development since than Florovsky’s student, John Zizioulas. Following Swiss Reformed theologian Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Zizioulas notes how Luke situates Jesus’ words to Peter about strengthening the brethren precisely within the institution of the Eucharist. Primacy is set in the context of communion, within the framework of an act Jesus commands be done until he comes again. As Zizioulas stresses, conciliarity, as a structure of communion, requires effective primacy: one needs a primus to convene a council. Universal conciliarity requires universal primacy. Yet this primacy must follow the same pattern as regional primacies in Apostolic Canon 34:

The bishops of each province (ethnos) must recognize the one who is first (protos) amongst them, and consider him to be their head (kephale), and not do anything important without his consent (gnome); each bishop may only do what concerns his own diocese (paroikia) and its dependent territories. But the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all. For in this way concord (homonoia) will prevail, and God will be praised through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.

Zizioulas’ contribution has been decisive. In his attempt to ground ecclesiology in a Trinitarian “ontology of communion,” however, Zizioulas shows a tendency to neglect the category of act or agency in favor of the image of a perfect eternal, or eschatological, state of being. This may be one reason why Zizioulas, in contrast to Florovsky, has little to say about redeeming work of the Cross, and even less interest in integrating the ascetic dimension into his ecclesiology.

It is here we can take a major lesson from Florovsky, which I think ought to guide our thinking about the Church even further still today. Even now, one still hears some repeating the old Liberal trope that the categories of Chalcedon are too “static,” too “ontological,” too metaphysical or else too apophatic to communicate anything existentially significant to us about Jesus. Not unlike T.F. Torrance (with whom he corresponded at this time), Florovsky, however, suggested a thoroughly Christocentric and Chalcedonian ecclesiology in which the ontological terms of Chalcedon are interpreted in a more wide-ranging dynamic, soteriological sense. Being and act, person and work, nature and history, ontology and narrative – all these must be held together in unity. The whole Christ includes the whole work, inclusive of the Church. As Florovsky put it in 1955 – and here I also conclude:

It is precisely because Christ is God-man and, according to the formula of Chalcedon, is at once “perfect in His Godhead and in His manhood” that the Church is possible at all. And . . . Christ’s “identification” with man . . . was consummated in His death, which was itself the victory over the powers of destruction, and this death was revealed in the Glory of the Resurrection and consummated in the Heavenly Session. There is but one indivisible act of God. The Church is constituted in the sacraments, all of which imply an intimate participation in Christ’s death and resurrection and a personal “communion” with Him. The Church is the fruit of Christ’s redeeming work and, as it were, its “summary.” . . . Only in this perspective can the nature of the Church be fully and properly understood. The crucial point of interpretation is that of the character of Christ’s “human nature,” his own and yet “universal.” . . . [And yet] the concept of Incarnation, taken by itself and not expanded sufficiently to include the life and work of Christ up to their climax on the Cross and in the glory of the Resurrection, does not provide a sufficient ground or basis for Ecclesiology. Nor would it be sufficient to analyse the mystery of the Incarnation exclusively in terms of “nature.” . . . It must be stated therefore that no coherent Ecclesiology can be constructed unless the centrality of Christ, the Incarnate Lord and King of Glory, is admitted without any reservations.
In the final account, “Christology” and “Ecclesiology” will be organically correlated in the inclusive doctrine of “the Whole Christ”, – totus Christus, caput et corpus, in the glorious phrase of St. Augustine. . . The decisive argument . . . will be from the integral vision of the Person and work of Christ.

Surefire Defense


Surefire defense vs “semi-ism” (my neologism — blame me): kind of a heaving mass of semi-arianism churned up with semi-gnosticism, along with a practical* belief in being-as-power:

“… if the beauty of material existence is not merely the overflow of a self-enclosed, strictly unitary, and entirely spiritual beauty into the confining channels of material deformity, but is the unnecessary, untrammeled, and contingent expression of a divine delight that is always already ‘differential,’ created difference is loosed, as univocally good in its creatureliness, though it is analogically imparted; and when Christian thought replaced the identist and substantial analogy Platonism presumed between the world and ‘God’ with a genuinely ontological analogy between creatures who own no substantial claim on being at all and a God who is the utterly transcendent and absolutely immediate actuality of any being’s existence, every form of metaphysical reasoning had to be recast.”

— DBH, Beauty of the Infinite, pp104-5

Please forgive the tentative nature of these propositions, but they are thoughts that have percolated through various “strata of consciousness” over time.

What a context we have to deal with. On one side, we have a population who is allergic to non-material concepts in general. And part of the pathology of that allergy is a disregard of beauty, ignorance of peace as a reality, and a poor notion of joy (mistaking it for short bursts of enthusiasm and other dionysian experiences).

On another side, we have ecclesiastics who might not pay much attention to surface beauty at all, and may seem to be evacuating the demotic and quotidian, the insignificant, the unimportant intervals that do not rise to the usual academic categories. Where “personhood” has been adopted as a mark of deification, and nature — if not denounced — is at least disregarded (so that it might be surmounted and its lineaments discarded).

On another side, we have public intellectuals who say, as a matter of policy, that we religious sorts can go on with our cute little narratives (that are valued as one menagerie exhibit after another), but at the same time they articulate — across the board (philosophy submerged in the argots of soft science, arts and politics) — a rather colonializing rhetoric of being as chaotic power (i.e., the multiverse and Nietzsche are frighteningly similar in conceptual form), and individuality displacing the whole of soul-body-community, and the eviction of meaning from time and space.

There are other sides too, I’m sure.

The above paragraph is taken out of DBH’s essay on Nietzsche, in particular, who has only begun to be applied practically to culture and the West.

I am asking this — and I really am honestly open for your thoughts:

Did Nietzsche (and like philosophers/critics) cause this? Did such philosophy produce the sector of physicists that, for the sake of defending ultimate chance, posit a multiverse to escape the otherwise clear evidence for theistic design? Or what it the other way around? Are passions the cause of the radical materialism that obtains — and, in turn, such materialism (buttressed by the apparent success of technology) produced such anti-ontological notions as “being-as-power”?

One wonders, as one repairs back to prayer, the Word, and the simple real beauties of flesh and blood.

* such belief could hardly be theoretical

The Knowledge of God (chapter 6 of Staniloae’s “Experience of God”)

dionysios converting the pagan philosophers


“… it is not the same to say something about God as it is to gain and see God.” So St Gregory Palamas said to Barlaam (The Experience of God, p115).

Here is Fr Staniloae’s central note about the Knowledge of God — that at its highest point and most essential depth, it is beyond experience and inexpressible, that it is a “trans-apophaticism” that extends even beyond via negativa, and finally and climactically, it is the ineffable experience of God as Person (only, of course, in the extent of God’s energy, never His essence).

In the most valuable accessible survey of the patristic tradition of the Knowledge of God, Fr Staniloae moves from Gregory the Theologian to Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysios the Areopagite, Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas (referring to Maximus the Confessor along the way). His discussion of the Areopagite in particular, if for no other part of this chapter, is a most helpful corrective to the contemporary Orthodox discussion of knowledge (especially in the shadow of a “Western captivity” of Orthodox academia).

As in any other Orthodox discussion of the Knowledge of God, Fr Staniloae contrasts the two different strains of the knowledge of God: the rational or “cataphatic” knowledge on one hand, and the ineffable or “apophatic” on the other. And, along with everyone else, the author clearly states that the apophatic is superior to the rational, because it completes it.

Here, though, is where he parts company from the rest: from this point, Fr Staniloae discusses the Knowledge of God in ways that at least “sounds” different from other Orthodox presentations. In the first part of his discussion, the author focuses on the relationship between these two kinds of knowledge of God. The very fact that he makes the relationship a subject of consideration distinguishes him from the usual Orthodox treatment. Instead of positing a sharp differentiation, if not chiasmus, between “cataphaticism” and “apophaticism,” Fr Staniloae rather “nests” the former within the latter. After all, the latter is superior because of the fact that it substantiates the completion of the former. If that is true, then it makes little sense, if any, to isolate these two terms in opposition to each other.

Contrary to the common notion that cataphatic knowledge is positive and apophatic knowledge is negative, Fr Staniloae emphasizes that cataphasis as “rational knowledge” includes not only “positive” knowledge, but also “negative” knowledge. This latter is the “via negativa” of both East and West, in which long intellectual tradition there is a constant and honest dissatisfaction with any philosophical term that describes God, because there is, at the root of all knowledge, a certainty that God as Person must infinitely exceed all creaturely definition.

So the renunciation of philosophical terms (and the resulting and unending discursive dialectic) about God is actually part of the rational, cataphatic tradition of Knowledge. Here, the author contrasts the Eastern tradition from the West: this intellectual renunciation of terms — i.e., the via negativa — is not part of apophatic knowledge. The renunciative tradition is really propositional. It consists of “statements about” rather than the “ineffable experience” that exceeds any attempt to confine in cognitive expression. The apophatic experience of divinity — especially, in its most ineffable, the experience of God as Person — lies not only beyond philosophical proposition, but also beyond the possibility of internal language, or thought. That is, it is “trans-rational” — surely a better term than “irrational.”

“Rationality” is never denounced in patristic tradition. How can it be, Staniloae asks, when the Logos upon which rationality is predicated (see Justin Martyr’s revision of the Stoic doctrine of the logos spermatikos) is Christ Himself, through Whom and form Whom all things were made?

Here, Fr Staniloae emphasizes the validity and necessity of cataphatic knowledge, nesting it (or framing it) as he does within the exponentially larger apophatic experience. He quotes Dionysios at this critical passage — an “apophatic” spiritual writer who is finally and correctly identified as one who “harmonizes” the two knowledges of God:

Since it is the Cause of all beings, we should posit and ascribe to it all the affirmations we make in regard to beings, and, more appropriately, we should negate all these affirmations, since it surpasses all being. Now we should not conclude that the negations are simply the opposites of the affirmations, but rather that the cause of all is considerably prior to this, beyond privations, beyond every denial, beyond every assertion. (Mystical Theology, I.2, quoted by Staniloae, p111).

Both kinds of this knowledge of God can be known, at least partly, by any human — whether positive and negative in cataphasis, or the trans-rational ineffable experience of God as Person in apophasis. The natural revelation of God as Creator, immanent to and transcendent of His Creation as absolute, with Creation (i.e., all space-time and eternity) in utter contingency upon Him is always “shot-through” with supernatural revelation.

But this raises an ambiguity in Staniloae himself that is probably true of the general Orthodox thinking about the Knowledge of God: is the apophatic experience given only to those who “believe,” who are “Christian,” who participate in the Body of Christ in a decisive manner?

It is true that the apophatic experience grows and becomes more known (though always ineffably) as a “man progresses in the spiritual life, the intellectual knowledge about God — as creator of the world and source of its providential care — which comes to man from the world, is imbued with the direct and richer contemplation of him, that is, with apophatic knowledge” (p97).

But is a non-baptized human being excluded from apophasis? It does not seem so in this sixth chapter of The Experience of God. That said, a non-baptized person cannot experience the continued perfecting process of apophasis. Neither, it is strongly insinuated, can an Orthodox person — even, and especially, an intellectual academic — who does not participate in purification.

Here we are drawn to one of the oddest features of Fr Staniloae’s essay on the Knowledge of God. After his distinctive comparison of cataphasis and apophasis (which is helpfully summarized on pages 116-117), and his note that the Orthodox ethos is characterized by apophasis (at this point he returns to familiar Orthodox language about apophasis), the author makes an abrupt jump into a “practical life” discussion of apophatic knowledge.

In this undeniably “existential” dimension of the subject of apophasis, Fr Staniloae returns to the powerful legacy of St Maximus the Confessor — that is, his famous insistence upon the conversion from “philautia” (i.e., “self-love”) to the essentially Christ-like love for others. It is in this practice of love that the human creature is drawn into the fundamentally Trinitarian “form” of existence — which is “goodness” itself:

In this knowledge I no longer see God only as the creator and the providential guide of all things, or as the mystery which makes himself visible to all, filling all with a joy which is to a greater or lesser extent the same in all cases; but I know him in his special care in regard to me, in his intimate relations with me, in his plan whereby, through the particular suffering, demands, and direction that he addresses to me in life, he leads me in a special way to the common goal (p118).

It is distinctive of Staniloae that he sets this existential, practical participation in love (and Trinitarian life) squarely in the province of apophasis!

And that, I would suggest, is what makes Orthodoxy truly Orthodox.

Anyways, it should be noted that all knowledge, for Staniloae (who stands squarely in the old patristic tradition), utterly relational. Every true concept is a “sentence” addressed by “Infinite Person” to man.

In summary, what does Fr Staniloae not set out to do in this chapter on Knowledge of God?

He does not dismiss intellectual knowledge in favor of apophatic knowledge, neither does he draw a rigid distinction between them.

He does not equate cataphatic knowledge with positive theology, and apophatic knowledge with irrationality. In fact, rationality embraces both positive and negative terms.

He does not conflate apophasis with “religious knowledge” or “theology.” Neither does he associate cataphasis with “natural revelation” and apophasis with “supernatural revelation.”

He does not sequester the knowledge of God away from “secular” knowledge, reason or philosophy.

He does not denounce analogy, or even analogia entis.

There are a lot of things that Fr Staniloae does not do, that a lot of other people (even Orthodox people), in fact, do.

Finally, there are many dichotomies identified in Fr Staniloae’s chapter on the Knowledge of God: immanence vs transcendence; created vs uncreated (which itself is a categorized comprising energy vs essence, person vs nature); time-space vs eternity (and above that is everlasting, or absolute/infinite).

But the very prettiest thing in this chapter is that knowledge is divine communication. In which beauty always traverses these dichotomies.

And the most beautiful expression — and form — is the Word Himself.

Chapter 5 – Theology as Ecclesial Service

Dogmas, the truths of the faith necessary for salvation (p. 59), must have their endless content continually disclosed. This process of disclosure is the task of theology (p. 79). Theological inquiry informs all aspects of church life, from preaching to pastoral care, to sanctification (ibid). It is shaped and inspired by the Holy Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition of the Church.

Theology is tasked with the mission of taking dogmatic truths and conveying them in a way that aids the faithful in understanding the various aspects of the Christian faith. Therefore, it cannot remain stagnant or inflexible. While the dogmas themselves are true, timeless and unchanging, the theological interpretations of these truths need to be able to communicate with the time and place in which the interpretation occurs.

This is not to say that theology, thus understood, deviates from the dogmatic truths to which they point. Fr. Staniloae makes this clear in his discussion of the relationship between dogma and theologoumena. If theologoumena is to be understood as theological examinations which have not been adopted as official ecclesiastical formulations, then implied in this is an assertion that there are root-level agreements between theologoumena and the dogmas to which they refer. Otherwise, they are not even to be considered theologoumena. Moreover, they will simply become obsolete over time, because they do not reference the dogmatic truths of the Church, nor do they aid in the salvific work of the Church. Ultimately they will be abandoned (p. 83).

In the Orthodox context, “[t]heology is done in the Church through the personal thinking of her members (p. 85).” There is no separation between Church and theology as exists in the Catholic Church (ibid.). The inerrancy of the Church and its theological work is assured because the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and because the Church preserves the dogmas it was given through experience and represented in the synods of bishops (ibid.). “All members of the Church are part of this body and all do theology to a greater or lesser extent.”

While each member of the Church can theologize, the temptation towards individualism can be circumvented in a couple of ways. The first is that the individual works to make sure that the theology that is derived is in harmony with the teaching that has been received. Also, quoting Evagrios Pontos, “If you are a theologian you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian (p. 86).”

Remembering that theology is the work of presenting dogmatic truths, it is important to emphasize that the theologian needs to be an active participant in the life of the Church. “The theologian will never know God [God from the experience of His saving activity among men]f he does not enter into a personal relationship with God and with the faithful through prayer (p. 87).

As time progresses, and as new problems arise, it is the task of theology to bring those issue to bear over and against the dogmatic truths of the faith. For while the truths are unchangeable, to present them in a way that is rigid and insensitive to the matters of the age would be both inadequate and damaging (p. 88). However, in bringing theology to bear on current events, three conditions should be held: 1) fidelity to the dogmas which are held and knowable through the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church; 2) responsibility to the faithful who are contemporary to the theology being done and 3) openness to the eschatological future, the future of deification, that awaits the faithful. A theology that neglects the tradition of the past is damaging, just as is a theology that fails to be relevant to the challenges of the present, just as is a theology which fails to prepare the faithful for a future that is understood to be an eternity in the presence of God, out theosis.

All of these concerns should be held in balance, should be equally considered. An overemphasis on any one or two, to the detriment of those remaining, would produce a deficient theology which at best would be innocuous or irrelevant and ultimately cast aside, and at worst it would be destructive or even corrosive to the soul.

While theology is meant to take all of these aspects into account, it must be understood that it will never explain in toto the One to whom the dogmas of the faith refer. Theology does not supplant dogma. Neither does theology exhaust all of the dogmatic truths that concern God. This is the very basis for the emphasis on apophaticism that is central to Orthodox thought. Citing Lossky, the Church is not a school of philosophy debating abstract coincepts, it is “essentially a communion with the living God (p. 92; cf. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. (London, 1957) p. 42).”

Theology thus continues to advance our understanding of God through its re-presenting of the dogmas of the faith. Remaining faithful to the teachings of the past, relevant to the concerns of the present, and humbly open to the challenges of the future, theology continues to nourish and sustain the faithful of the Church.

Staniloae concludes this chapter with yet another incisive comment from our father among the saints, Maximos: “Theology will be effective if it stands always before God and helps the faithful to do the same in their every act: to see God through the formulae of the past, to express him through the explanations of the present, to hope and to call for the advancement towards full union with him in the life to come (p. 93).

Forgive me.