Category Archives: Staniloae

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

Watersplash 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 … Continue Reading ››

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

Neagoe_basarab

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 … Continue Reading ››

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

creation_icon 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 … Continue Reading ››

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 … Continue Reading ››

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 … Continue Reading ››

Chapter 4: The Church as the Instrument for Preserving Revelation

As Bishop BASIL (Essey) introduced Fr. Zacharias to his clergy during one of their retreats, he made mention of the idea of paradosis (παρὰδοσις, the Greek word we usually translate as "tradition").  Not so much like links in a chain but strands in a tapestry, is the way in which the tradition of the Church is passed from person to person, from group to group, from generation to generation.
An icon written on a woven piece of cloth.
It is with this in mind that we move on into chapter four of Dumitru Staniloae's Orthodox Dogmatics.  "Tradition", Fr. Staniloae states, "cannot exist without the Church (p. 53)."  The Church, it must be understood, is the community that came into existence at the time of the Apostles, and continues -- being formed by tradition, and also forming tradition:  "The Church begins with tradition, tradition begins with the Church (p. 53)." The Church is also bears the work of the Holy Spirit, which means that God's action (as evidenced in natural and supernatural revelation)  is also an integral part of tradition (p.53).  God acts, and the community continually works to reflect in better ways … Continue Reading ››

The Experience of God vol 1, chapter 3: Scripture and Tradition

Icon_Philip There are probably too many essays already that refute (or at least attempt to refute) the Protestant tradition of sola scriptura. The third chapter of Staniloae’s Experience of God – “Scripture and Tradition” – never explicitly names this most important of the Protestant “five solae,” but he certainly answers it, as he responds to its parallel (and, in a morose note, consequential) tradition of scriptural disregard. Many of us who are products of a Protestant and particularly Evangelical upbringing can remember the old motto “Scripture interpreting Scripture.” This motto attempts to surmount the obvious problem raised by the Reformers (i.e., Luther et al) – if Holy Tradition (or the Magisterium in the West) is to be discarded as an interpretative framework of Scripture, then what should take its place? The Reformed answer is that Scripture interprets itself, and thus there is no need for a human intermediary. The familiar explanation is that the Holy Spirit Himself is the sole agent of interpretation. This concept of “sole divine agency” is what unifies all five “solae” of the Reformation, in which “sola scriptura” (exclusion of Tradition, especially in human history after the writing of the … Continue Reading ››

THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD VOLUME 1, CHAPTER 2

Creation-Icon Staniloae’s theological universe seems drastically opposed to his Swiss contemporary Karl Barth. As we have found in chapter 2, Staniloae’s world is alive with the signs of God. This is no mere romanticism, where we find the infinite in the awesome expanses of landscapes or in the flowering of the inner recesses of the heart. No, Staniloae is representative of an older theological age – the ordered and empowered universe of the Fathers. The universe is meaningful because its creator, sustainer, and consummation is the Triune God. The infinite is bound up in every instance and in every thing. sta_barth My understanding of natural revelation has been bound my theological heritage, Western and flowing from two trajectories: Augustine/Aquinas & Barth and Post-Barth. Staniloae’s critique of Western theology I think is spot on. “Western theology has accustomed us to hold, that in natural revelation man is the only active agent. This separation of God from nature, a nature through which God speaks and works…has easily led to various kinds of conceptions that have sought to explain the world exclusively on the basis of an immanent … Continue Reading ››

The Experience of God Volume 1, Chapter 1

In the rather frenetic initial scenes of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, Holmes holds Watson back from attacking Lord Blackwood, not so much for kindness to Blackwood but because of the glass spike protruding out from Blackwood's hands that would have seriously hurt Watson if he had moved in any closer.  "Observe," says Holmes as the spike comes into focus.  "How did you see that?" asks Watson.  Holmes responds, "Because I was looking for it." In a sense, this is similar to how Fr. Dimitru Stăniloae understands the idea of natural revelation.1  The imprint of God, who is the creator of the cosmos and the world in which we live (and us as well), is evident in all things.  As an Orthodox Christian whose understanding is that there really is no separation between natural and supernatural (or biblical) revelation, God's creative act is everywhere revealed.  We see it because we know to look for it. [p. 1] Fr. Stăniloae presents natural revelation in a sort of hierarchy.  First there is the cosmos and all within it, including the world in which we live.  It is rational (meaning, as I understand it, able to be understood and adapted), because … Continue Reading ››

Dumitru Stăniloae

dsThere are few Orthodox scholars who match the level of respect, the breadth of perspective or the intellectual depth of Romanian priest, scholar and theologian Dumitru Stăniloae.  His life stands out because like many Romanian priests and scholars, he was persecuted to the point of imprisonment, intimidation and physical abuse.  Yet despite the abuses endured, he was a prolific writer, authoring commentaries, many periodical articles, a highly augmented rendering of the Philokalia in Romanian, and, key to our concerns at present, an Orthodox "dogmatic theology" (Teologia dogmatică ortodoxă). Fr. Dumitru, though thoroughly Orthodox in his theology and fully patristic in his approach, did not limit the scope of his studies to only Orthodox writers, or only writers from the first seven or eight centuries of the Church.  He read Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner and Hans Küng.  Likewise he was familiar with earlier "western" saints like Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine and St. Vincent of Lérins, as well as the modern Orthodox thinkers like Lossky, Evdokimov and Yannaris. What better a starting place, then, for a collection of people seeking points of commonality between eastern and western Christianity than a man … Continue Reading ››