August 13, 2012. Theology in Greece in the 1960's

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Source (in Greek: Η θεολογία στήν Ελλάδα τής δεκαετίας τού '60)


These days there are references to theology in Greece during the decade of the 60's and this theology is presented as a new theology, either as a resetting of the teachings of the Church Fathers, or as a neo-patristic theology, that is, as a theology of the Church which is expressed in a new language.

There are many who argue that the theology that appeared in Greece during the 60's was an important event for our Church, but, as they say, several factors contributed to the disappearance of this significant prospect which this theology created.

It is the emergence of some young theologians, who wrote various scientific treatises or produced theological texts, who tried to see Orthodox teaching through another perspective, different from those prevailing at the time.

I would like to emphasize some points which, in my opinion, should be considered together, along with other studies made in this regard.

1. Theology in the 1960's

It is known that in Greece, both before and after the liberation from the Turkish yoke, a Western-style theology was introduced, which was associated either with the scholasticism of the papacy or with Protestant moralism. This is why the late Fr. George Florovsky spoke about the Babylonian captivity of Orthodox theology.

In turn, at some point certain Greek theologians came in contact with the texts of Russian émigré (refugees) in Paris, or other sensitive voices, and found a different way of expressing the problems and themes which occupied Western man. They were enthused by such texts and tried to transfer these views to the Greek Orthodox public.

At the same time, however, there was another movement by theologians, especially in Thessaloniki, to bring to light the works of Saint Gregory Palamas, who expressed an Orthodox hesychastic way of life. Within this perspective there were written studies, theses, and socio-theological texts.

All these trends are called "theology of the 1960's", and were seen as something new, because it treated philosophical, theological, anthropological, ecclesiological, and social issues through a new perspective and provided a new language, which touched more the new man. This surprised many, which both the left and critics have described this movement as "neo-orthodoxy".

2. The Causes For Which Appeared the Theology of the 1960's

Certainly this phenomenon must be studied to examine all of its parameters. For example, the causes for the emergence of this theology should be investigated, whether this theology has a foundation in timeless tradition or is it a seasonal phenomenon, and what ultimately caused its fertilization in our country and the Church.

Of course, all of these trends should be studied adequately and objectively, because the starting point and perspective of all theologians who fall into this theology are not the same, as already mentioned. Some of them began with the study of patristic texts within the hesychastic tradition of Mount Athos, others from contemporary philosophies such as Meyendorff, others by the study of the Russian theologians of the diaspora, and others were affected by the "political theology" of Latin America. Of course, all of these categories result in different conclusions.

Certainly theology in the 1960's should be studied without exaggeration and without devaluations and be payed its just praise or be judged. At the same time, we should not think that the same trends were abandoned in the decades of the twentieth century in the western world. Therefore, the influence of West German theology should be examined in shaping at least part of the so-called theology of the 60's in Greece.

I mean that in the western world, primarily in the German theology of the 1920's, after the horrific results of the First World War and the cooperation of the Christians with the imperialist powers of the time, there developed crisis and dialectical theology or neo-orthodoxy, which tried to see the relationship of God with the world through a new perspective. There appeared new Protestant theologians, such as Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, and Tillich, who met with philosophers of the time, such as Kierkegaard, Berdyaev, Heidegger, etc. respectively, and spoke of the Church in relation to the world in a different manner from older German theologians, such as Harnack.

In this German theology of the 1920's there were heard and discussed terms like neo-orthodoxy, secularism, ecclesiology, pneumatology, eschatology, universality, etc., which were terms used extensively by Greek theologians of the 1960's. Moreover, there was a great debate in Germany and in the West generally regarding the relationship of the Church with the world, faith and reason, philosophy and theology, history and eschatology, word and revelation, and of God.

Also, in the western world in the 1960's there developed various theological trends which spoke of eschatological theology, post-christian theology, the theology of the death of God, political theology, etc. And such terminology was brought to Greece in the 1960's and beyond. Professor Marios Begzos presented in a beautiful way the entire evolution of this theology to the Protestants.

Thus, the theology of the 1960's in Greece should certainly be studied from this perspective, that is in relation to parallel theological movements which were in the Protestant world, primarily in Germany, and the relationship between the Orthodox theologians of the 1960's and the Protestant theologians of the 1920's and 1960's should be investigated.

For example, during the student years of my generation, we would very often hear from our professors the views of the great German Protestant theologians, such as Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, etc. As an example I will mention that in my class on the history of dogmatics, among others, I had examined the issue of dialectical theology and the views of the above German theologians regarding the justification of man in relation to Orthodox theology as expressed by the Holy Fathers. Also, in the degree examinations for the class on Christian ethics I examined the book of Nikolai Berdyaev The Destiny of Man. This was occurring because some of the professors had studied in Germany and knew the whole movement of dialectical theology.

Our previous generation had been influenced too much by the German theologian Harnack, who preceded dialectical theology, because the professors of that time studied German theology through his views.

In any event, the so-called theology of the 1960's in Greece should be studied on the basis of the corresponding theology in Germany and the basis of the Russian theology of the diaspora.

3. The Theology of the Church

Beyond what has been reported I must add a view which should be explored, in order to move to safer conclusions on this issue.

In the 1960's I was a student of the Theological School of Thessaloniki, when I was taught by professors but also read texts of theologians who expressed this new perspective. At the same time however I was studying texts of the hesychastic tradition, the Fathers of the Church, especially St. Gregory Palamas, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and the philokalic Fathers.

On one of my visits then to Mount Athos I asked the late monk Theoklitos Dionysiatis, who then excelled even in a monastic state on Mount Athos and Greece as an exponent of Orthodox theology, about how he saw all of these theological problems in Greece. He replied correctly that he didn't see a problem in theology, but a problem with theologians!

With my subsequent studies I concluded that Orthodox theology is the voice of the Church. And just like the Church is timeless as the Body of Christ, so also does Orthodox theology have a timeless expression and experience that is not divided by decades. Of course, we can evaluate within history various theological trends which were expressed by theologians in their time or developed in various cities (Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, etc.), but we cannot talk about an Orthodox theology of the 1960's, the 1970's, the 1980's, the 1990's, etc.

In other words, the Orthodox theology of the Church is the theology of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers through all the ages. Every new current which appears must be studied in relation to the theology of the Church which is expressed by the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers. These saints reached theosis, saw God within Light, and then expressed their experiences within the terms of their times.

When one studies the so-called theology of the 1960's through the perspective of the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Fathers, one will see a theology that was both influenced by the theology of the Russian diaspora and by Protestant dialectical theology, and is associated with elements of thinking, emotion and heredity. Thus, in some places it offers a new language, but essentially differs much methodologically from the patristic tradition, which in its depth is neptic/hesychastic and not philosophical/thoughtful. It is a theology that deals with aesthetics and not with asceticism, with the logical faculty and not the noetic faculty.

Also, the theologians who have been influenced by the "beauty" of the theology of the 1960's, remain clung to it, and do not see that there are subsequent theological studies both in the West and in the Orthodox East which have gone much further on these issues and have largely exceeded the so-called theology of the 1960's. But for a runner/athlete to judge negatively those who have overcome and run stronger than him, is not a correct understanding and criticism.

In May-June of 1997 Fr. John Romanides, Fr. George Metallinos and the author were asked to speak at a Seminar which was organized by the Orthodox Church of America (O.C.A.) near Atlanta. We were the only speakers and each of us in turn gave lectures, over two days, around the issue of Orthodoxy and therapeutic science. Fr. Romanides due to illness was unable to attend, but his introductory text was read. Fr. George Metallinos spoke on the topic of the historical and theological context of the Orthodox Church. And the author explained issues that related the Church with a hospital and the method by which man is healed.

The O.C.A. is a Church in which Fr. Alexander Schmemann, known to all, taught and played a significant role. The organizers of the Seminar wanted to know our views on these issues. We learned that the members of this Church, until then, considered the theologians of Greece influenced by the scholastic and Protestant theology of the West and that the Russian theologians of the diaspora expressed the true Orthodox theology of the so-called neo-patristics and neo-palamites, which of course is superior and outweighs the theology of the Fathers. Well-known are the views of Alexis Khomiakov that the scholastic theology of the West is higher than the theology of the Fathers, and that Russian theology surpassed both scholastic and even Greek patristic theology. But when they heard us repeatedly over two days at this Seminar analyze issues of Orthodox tradition, then one of those in attendance said: "This theology is higher than ours and the Russian diaspora. We were mistaken to have underestimated it."

4. The Case of Fr. John Romanides

John S. Romanides, painting Nikos Kalatzis (http://www.nikos-kalatzis.com)Among the theologians of the 1960's many count the Protopresbyter Fr. John Romanides, who really created a great surprise at that time and contributed to the restoration of theology in Greece towards the patristic tradition.

I think it is inappropriate to associate Fr. John Romanides with this trend of so-called neo-orthodoxy. And for many reasons.

The first is that Fr. John appeared in theological writings and studied theology in the 1950's, first with studies and later with his thesis, titled "The Ancestral Sin", which was indeed a milestone in the Theological School of Athens, where he created a great discussion, but also more generally in the theological world of Greece.

The second reason is because Fr. John was not affected by the Russian theologians of the diaspora nor by dialectical Protestant theology, but he did personal research on the Apostolic Fathers of the Church. Raised in the Protestant environment of America, he studied at a Papal Institute, where he learned and studied the theology of Thomas Aquinas, and in Protestant theological schools, such as Yale and Harvard, and came to know their mentality very well. Primarily because the Protestants teach that the Fathers of the Church changed apostolic tradition, he studied thoroughly the Apostolic Fathers (Irenaeus, Ignatius, Methodius, Justin, Polycarp, etc), who are the ring by which the Apostles and later Fathers are linked. Arising from this study was his thesis on ancestral sin, which, among other things, determined the difference between Orthodox and scholastic theology. Characteristic is the subtitle of his study on the ancestral sin, which identifies the book's contents: "Contributions to the examination and conditions of the Ancestral Sin, from the Ancient Church of St. Irenaeus in comparison to the entire inheritance of the Orthodox and the West until the theology of Thomas Aquinas."

The third reason, therefore, was that when he came to Greece in the 1950's he felt great surprise by the climate he met. After developing his thesis he studied deeper the issue and reached other conclusions, such as the theology of hesychasm and the life of Romiosini. This Romiosini however he saw more in light of the neptic and hesychastic tradition of the Church. I note here that whoever interprets the theory of Fr. John Romanides regarding Romiosini within nationalism and not within the neptic tradition of the Church, which is beyond all nationalism, misinterprets his views.

Therefore, the subsequent studies of Fr. John Romanides are not deprived of his initial studies, as some claim, but they are its positive evolution, that is, towards the pure patristic tradition. Furthermore, those who interpret his teachings within the trends of Monophysitism, Neo-Nestorianism and Origenism also do him injustice. For example, because some see Origenism in some of the views of Fr. John Romanides, I studied the doctrines of Origen which were condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council, as they appear in its surviving Acts, and I did not discern any similarity. If some views of Origen are Orthodox and passed through the Fathers of the Church (Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, etc.) in its tradition, we cannot criticize Fr. John. Besides, Fr. John repeatedly in his writings refers to the erroneous views of Origen. I have in mind the transcript of a speech I have, in which he is sharply critical of the views of Origen.

The fourth reason is that Fr. John knew very well the theology of the Russian diaspora, as well as the causes and views of those who were propagating them. He also knew very well German idealism, dialecticalism, and the existentialism of the West, and judged it according to those who developed it or brought it to Greece.

In fact, he supported the view that when one suffers in the physical body by a bacterium or virus, you should find the cause of the infection, where the virus comes from. Similarly, when someone carried a "theological virus or microbe" to Greece, one should examine to find the person who was "infected". He supported the fact that such research in theological literature can demonstrate that a Greek theologian who studied in the West brought to Greece a similar "theological microbe" or "theological virus"!

The conclusion to my thoughts above is that the study of theology in the 1960's should be handled with care and through the perspective of the conditions found above, but it must be underlined with emphasis that Orthodox theology cannot be interpreted within decades, but through the timeless tradition of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers. That is, in Orthodox theology there is no theology of the 1960's, but a theology of the God-seeing Saints, who are counter to the thinking of the philosophers.

© 2013 Holy Metropolis of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlassios.