Patristic Prooftexting

“Theology” is not an end in itself. It is always but a way. Theology, and even the “dogmas,” present no more than an “intellectual contour” of the revealed truth, and a “noetic” testimony to it. Only in the act of faith is this “contour” filled with content. Christological formulas are fully meaningful only for those who have encountered the Living Christ, and have received and acknowledged Him as God and Saviour, and are dwelling by faith in Him, in His body, the Church. In this sense, theology is never a self-explanatory discipline. It is constantly appealing to the vision of faith. “What we have seen and have heard we announce to you.” Apart from this “announcement” theological formulas are empty and of no consequence. For the same reason these formulas can never be taken “abstractly,” that is, out of total context of belief. It is misleading to single out particular statements from the Fathers and to detach them from the total perspective in which they have actually been uttered, just as it is misleading to manipulate with detached quotations from the Scripture. It is a dangerous habit “to quote” the Fathers, that is, their isolated sayings and phrases, outside of that concrete setting in which only they have their full and proper meaning and are truly alive. “To follow” the Fathers does not mean just “to quote” them. “To follow” the Fathers means to acquire their “mind,” their phronema.

Fr Georges Florovsky. Bible, Church, Tradition, 109

My first publication

My chapter in this book is “An Appreciation and Precis of Jacob Neusner’s Theology of the Oral Torah: Revealing the Justice of God“.

The original version of the article was a series of blog posts here. As they have been reworked and the copyright transferred, I’ve taken them down. So, if you want to read it, you’ll have to buy the book!

I’m grateful and honored that Professor Neusner included my article in his book, in which the editor and other contributors are such distinguished scholars. It’s quite encouraging!

I must be doing something right, at least some of the time….

Orthodox Rules of Biblical Interpretation

Following are the Nine Rules of Orthodox Biblical Interpretation promulgated in 1786 by Platon, Metropolitan of Moscow, rector of the Moscow Ecclesiastic Academy:

1.) Open the literal meaning, and where it is dark because of translation or an ambiguity in the language, explain it in such a way that no passage is left which students cannot understand, apart from the very rare texts which are too complex to comprehend.

2.) Interpret spiritual and mysterious meanings, especially in the Old Testament, in those passages where such meanings are transparently concealed. In doing this, one has to be cautious so as not to do this with force. Thus, one ought not to seek out a secret meaning where there is none (or where one is forced, as is noticeable with many interpreters), but where links and the parallel passages follow directly from the words. Interpret spiritual and mysterious readings in agreement with the best interpreters.

3.) For a better understanding of dark passages, find and link the parallel passages, for this will make comprehension easier, since what is said in one place is often said ambiguously and briefly in another place, and despite the similarity between the two texts, the one differs in terms of a more detailed and clearer account.

4.) In interpreting Scripture, do not forget to conclude with the moral teachings flowing from the text. Formulate it with great regard.

5.) In interpreting the books of the Old Testament Prophets, indicate clearly when and in which circumstances their prophecies were fulfilled in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

6.) Where passages of Holy Scripture seem to contradict each other, explain these texts in agreement with published sources that contain general agreement.

7.) Wherever passages are found from which some false conclusions were drawn and which subsequently led to schisms or heresies, one is obliged to clearly indicate the right and true meaning of these passages, and to invalidate the opinions and arguments of heretics and schismatics.

8.) Where passages of Scripture are found to which human wisdom might make objections, such objections must not be hidden. Instead, allow them to be seen in a clear and satisfactory form.

9.) On the part of the teacher, it is critical to consult the Church Fathers, to read scrupulously the best Church teachers and interpretors, to know Church history well, and, above all, to beseech often and diligently the Father of Light to open the eyes toward understanding the wonders in His Law.

Adapted from Alexander Negrov, Biblical Interpretation in the Russian Orthodox Church (Mohr Siebeck, 2008), pp 61-62.

Solipsism

…is the root of the western mentality, from top to bottom, it has directed the development of the culture from the beginnings to the present day, when it is now celebrated as freedom. But how free are we if we are ruled by our desires, our passions with all their failures? How true is it that “what seems right” is actually right? Someone without consideration of the other, locked in oneself with one’s own concerns exclusively, is no longer a person. They may be human, but personhood relies upon relationships with others. We are recognized as individuals only when we are more than one, and the differentiation between other persons then becomes not only possible, but celebratory. Unfortunately, this is no longer (if it ever was) a common theme amogst the masses. The western (as it surely is) drive to increase wealth and to impose its own brand of anti-person “freedom” has existed from the beginning of western history, with the mass migrations and barbarian incursions in late antiquity. This was later to explode and become established as the only acceptable method of societal interaction with the Crusades: the capitalism of petty princes trumped the economic stability (not stagnation!) of the humble Nazarene. Today we see the results: a “healthy” economy must always be growing, with God-cursed usury the effective measure of that health. “More for me is good for everybody” is the motto of modernity. It’s sickening. Western culture has managed to turn the wrong way at every turning point in its economic, philosophical, and religious development. That much is clear. There are some pearls in the mud, to be sure, but they are few and far between, from beginning to end.

All this is to say that I recommend the following enlightening reading:
Andrew Louth, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071
Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy: The Church AD 1071-1453

These two books are volumes 3 and 4 in the series The Church in History, published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. They are positively the best histories of the medieval period that I have ever read. These are not ecclesiastical histories stricto sensu. They describe, as the series title indicates, the Church within the flow of history. What is so vastly enlightening and breathtakingly refreshing about them is that they do not, to be frank, toe the party line of Catholicism. Punches are not pulled. The development of a cruel and ugly culture in western Europe is directly related to the development of Catholicism, or rather more particularly, the papacy (for the former would not exist without the latter). This may sound like some kind of trashy and ill-considered conspiracy theory, the wild ravings of some half-crazed wild-eyed Easterner who would also jabber about Freemasons and Jews. On the contrary, the history is excellently written and clearly elaborated from a viewpoint that is, while that of Eastern Orthodox scholars, decidely more objective than any other I’ve yet encountered. And I really don’t mean that to sound like “I’m Eastern Orthodox and I like my histories by Eastern Orthodox.” It’s not like that at all. These histories really are a great deal more objective, avoiding the glorification and focus on the papacy usually found in histories of medievel Europe, and returning focus to the wider Church with the other Patriarchates all covered, and the various heretical and schismatic groups described as they fade in and out of history. I would categorize this history as corrective rather than revisionist. All the information is available in other histories, though scattered widely in various publications of various ages, languages, and availability. Louth and Papadakis have succeeded in producing excellent and eminently readable collations of all these disparate materials.

As a reader, do not find yourself to be surprised to have a number of misconceptions of European history overthrown in reading these two relatively short books. They are that powerful, and that corrective. I cannot recommend them highly enough.