Thursday, July 15, 2004

Pontifications on Orthodoxy.

Interesting discussion of Orthodoxy over at Pontifications, on the prominent animus towards Augustine and Western Christianity (and consequent failure to participate in non-polemical engagement with Western theology):

There is one aspect of American Orthodoxy, however, that concerns me. In its push to clearly define itself within and over against American culture, it has assumed a vigorous anti-Western stance that appears, at least to this pontificational observer, uncatholic. Two years ago, I remember reading an article by Fr Stanley Harakas on the subject of just war. His basic thesis was that Orthodoxy does not have a just war tradition. My immediate reaction was: Golly, don’t you count Ambrose and Augustine as your own? But apparently, contemporary Orthodox folk do not. Yes, Ambrose and Augustine (and Leo and Gregory) are still commemorated in the Orthodox calendar; but their Western perspectives and teachings are, for all intents and purposes, excluded from Orthodox theology and identity. Contemporary Orthodox theologians appear to have a very different relationship to the Western saints than the relationship demonstrated by the Orthodox participants at the Council of Florence, who believed that the teachings of all the Fathers must be harmonizable because they were all inspired by the Holy Spirit. . . .

What I find particularly lacking amongst contemporary Orthodox theologians is any serious and constructive engagement with the Western fathers and with Western theology. I’m thinking, for example, of the kind of engagement exemplified in Hans Urs von Balthasar’s engagement with Karl Barth. Von Balthasar did not cease being Catholic after his encounter with the Church Dogmatics, but it’s also clear that his faith was not untouched. He became a better Catholic because of his serious attempt to understand Barth and learn from him. Orthodox engagement with Western theology is typically restricted to polemical criticism. I understand the motivation in adopting such a stance when one is striving to establish boundaries, engage in vigorous evangelism, and strengthen ecclesial identity; but I still question its catholicity.

As one might expect, the author's words have provoked a good number of comments.

Incidentally, one of my goals this year is to take up Jaroslav Pelikan's The Spirit of Eastern Christendom. One of these days.

Update: Good response by Jamie (the "inveterate Augustinian") at Ad Limina Apostolorum. =)

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