Just wanted to knock on the EC door for a second and ask around for suggestions regarding what a little RC like me could pick up in regards to learning more about Orthodox Theology.
I’ve been mostly reading Palamas given his importance - however I’m not quite sure where to go from here.
My Orthodox friends have tossed a bunch of names at me - Maximos the Confessor and St. Symeon the New Theologian to name 2 that recur - although they are at a loss in suggesting actual volumes/translations/analysis of their writings.
I don’t like to recommend Lossky simply because he tends to repeat a lot of cliches about the West and Western theology.
The classic recommendations are:
Met. Kallistos Ware’s Orthodox Church and Orthodox Way.
Anything by Fr. Alexander Schmemann
Anything by Fr. John Meyendorff
One could also strongly recommend the works of Dimitru Staniloae’s works, as well as the book by +Hilarion Alfeyev Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to the Teaching and Spirituality of the Orthodox Church.
I’m going to go against the grain here (because I’m just that kind of guy ) and recommend that if and only if you are already very secure in your Catholic faith, you might want to take a look at Lossky. He does engage in some old polemical clichés, but I think to understand the Orthodox, one has to look at their objections too (the opposite is true as well; one has to look at Catholic objections to Orthodoxy in order to understand Western theology more fully). Some clichés will be easy to recognize and dismiss, like Lossky’s claim that the Filioque has caused all of the problems in the Western Church since the schism, but others, like his criticism that the Western teaching of the three Trinitarian persons being subsistent relations within an essence depersonalizes the Trinity in a semi-sabellian fashion, are not completely without merit. That being said, unless your knowledge of Western theology is completely firm, I wouldn’t recommend trying to read Lossky.
I would second the recommendation to read St. John of Damascus. His Exact Exposition on the Orthodox Faith is still as relevant today as when it was written over a millennium ago, and it is truly catholic in how it reflects the thought of many different Eastern fathers who came before him. His Treatises on the Holy Images are also a great source for understanding Eastern theology in the context of the iconoclast controversy (as a bonus, if you were not able to give a good defense before for why it is ok to venerate the saints and the images of saints, his defense of iconography is the classic defense against iconoclasts).
Excellent points here, Cavaradossi! And with regards to John of Damascus, he’s not only Catholic in the sense of reflecting the thoughts of the Eastern Fathers that went before him, he’s also Catholic in the sense of transcending East and West. He is, after all, a “Doctor” of the Latin Church.
I have seen good reviews for Fr. John Meyendorff’s book Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, although I have not read it myself. The title at least seems to suggest that it might be closer to what you’re looking for.
Time to the two-fer. I’ll pick Fr. Meyendorff’s book up with Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. I know people have warned me away from it (heck my Orthodox friends have voiced similar opinions), but. he does seem like one of those rare figures one should engage in like Barth is for the Protestants.
Dan Clendenin edited a collection of essays by major modern Orthodox theologians: Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. Clendenin is an evangelical, but most of the essays in the book are good reading for everyone (the last couple have a more specific focus on Orthodox/evangelical relations, if I remember rightly). Perhaps one criticism might be (especially from the Catholic perspective) that the book focuses fairly heavily on the neo-Patristic, neo-Palamite, Russian version of Orthodox theology–but these guys are generally the big names in modern Orthodox theology, and he does include at least one Greek (not Zizioulas, though, and Zizioulas is a very important Orthodox theologian).
For Maximos, Andrew Louth’s volume in the Early Church Fathers series is a great place to start, I think. He includes a number of writings by Maximus and a lengthy historical and theological introduction. Louth is himself a major contemporary Orthodox scholar, and worth reading in his own right.
I would second the recommendation of Ware as the best place to start for Orthodoxy in general, and of Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology as a good next step beyond Ware.
While it seems you already have plenty of suggestions, I will throw in my own recommendation. Patristic Theology by Fr. John Romanides. A personal favorite and, in my opinion, the single best introduction to Orthodoxy available in print.
Your friends suggestions are great as well. For St. Maximos, read his Centuries. For St. Symeon, read his Discourses.
The more the merrier! Thank you for your helpful suggestions both Mark and Edwin.
Now to take all this in step-by-step.
But i did have a question for someone who could shed some light regarding the portrayal of Orthodoxy in the world - namely, how/why did Russian theologians end up inhabiting a position of importance within modern theology?
If I had to guess I would say that there have been more of them, it being a bigger country. Modern Russia is many times the size of Serbia or Bulgaria, for example. Another point to reflect on is that the Bolshevik revolution kicked up a cloud of witnesses. A lot of Russians (and Belorussians and Ukrainians) became exiles, once out in the wider world they would be knowable.
Some, like father Sergius Bulgakov, flirted with Catholicism for a time. (He also dabbled with ideas on Sophiology, something rather uncharacteristic for mainline Orthodox but popular for a while with some modern Russians.)
I think the ‘Paris School’ was mainly Russian in composition, it was a modern movement (by Orthodox standards) that still can raise eyebrows from the naturally conservative Orthodox at it’s mention. :hmmm:
The famous dual ritual monastery of Chevetogne was possible for this same reason, Russians and Belorusssians were ‘out and about’ so to say.
The Russians are by far the largest of the Orthodox churches. It would be worthy of remark if they didn’t produce a large crop of significant theologians. Why is it any more surprising that there are significant Russian theologians than that there are significant theologians of any other nation (especially given what a large nation Russia is)?
But actually there are specific reasons why Russians have produced so many interesting theologians in the 20th century. 19th-century Russian intellectuals struggled to define their relationship to European culture–Europeans saw them as barbarians, and while some Russian intellectuals agreed, others argued for a uniquely “Slavic” cultural and religious identity. On the religious front, one form this took was the idea that Russian Orthodoxy was the true form of Christianity in contrast to both Catholicism and Protestantism. To do this, they needed to make the case that Russian Orthodoxy was more than the religious arm of the state (which in the 18th and 19th centuries it often appeared to be). The theological reflection that resulted from this search for identity was in full swing when the Russian Revolution occurred. Many young Russian religious thinkers (some of them converts from atheism) were exiled as a result of the Revolution, and they formed a dynamic community of theological inquiry in the West, largely in Paris and then later also in the U.S.
These guys and the younger generation that followed them are, for my money, some of the most interesting religious writers of the 20th century: Bulgakov, Berdyaev, Florovsky and Nikolai Lossky among the older generation; Schmemann, Meyendorff, and Vladimir Lossky (son of Nikolai) among the younger. I think that the historical circumstances in which they worked had a lot to do with the quality of their output.
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