Form and Substance II

The first part of this series would be a good thing to read, including the comments. Pay careful attention to the body of the post, however. I am not advocating that all Orthodox theological discussions be formatted like the Catena Aurea (though there is nothing whatsoever wrong with the catena format), or any other work composed exclusively of series of quotations of the Fathers arranged according to some grand scheme, whether for a biblical commentary, or for a philokalia, a bouquet of excerpts arranged by subject matter. What I do suggest is that we at the very least adopt the method of writing used by the Fathers themselves, with the same emphases, while in that creative emulation hewing as closely to Tradition as possible. This would certainly often include reference to the Fathers themselves, just as they demonstrated their love of quoting earlier Fathers even when the majority of their own writing might be original. However, there is a difference between an original work soundly founded on Orthodox Patristic Tradition, and innovation, especially when the latter is practiced by naive, though well-meaning, Orthodox writers. When one is tempted to pursue the latter course, a writer should cease immediately and return to and limit himself to the quotations of the Fathers themselves until he has appropriately internalized them and is able to write in a similar manner. It is always better to be presented with a string of Patristic pearls than a bucket of innovating slops.

Fr Felix Culpa (his nom du clavier) of the Ora et Labora blog, has recently brought forward some interesting examples of innovating and incorrect theological language attempting to pass for Orthodox theological instruction in the first few pages (!) of the new Orthodox Study Bible, in a post entitled Orthodox Study Bible, My Turn III. Fr Felix begins his post, buttressed by no less than our Father among the Saints Basil the Great (or “BasilG” in OSB-speak), with the same focus that the first post of this series began with: a concern for the proper use of language in theology. I find the most shocking of the abuses of theological language that are noted by Fr Felix to be the use of “They” as a pronoun for God. God is He, never “They.” We Orthodox are not tritheists, or polytheists of any stripe. Using “They” is as improper and heterodox as using “She” or “It.” That is not Orthodox, no matter what label the book bears. While it is clear that the authors are referring to the three hypostases of the Trinity, the impropriety of the language and its implications are un-Orthodox. This almost certainly occurred through an unexamined glossing of hypostases as persons, leading to the anthropomorphizing of God as though He were a group of three human persons. This is, as a professional diplomat might say, unfortunate. We’re apparently treated in this example not only to an unreflective shoddiness in theological language itself, but also in the theological understanding of whoever penned it. So much for a shockingly poor example of Orthodox theological instruction.

The richness of Eastern Orthodox hymnography is well-known. What may not be as well-known is that this hymnography is quite often also didactic and is canonically authoritative, being a perfect expression of Orthodox theology and designed with instruction in mind. The people learn the theology of the Church from it as much as they do from hearing the readings and reading theologically instructive materials outside of the liturgy. Here are some examples:

Led up through the bodily forms of the bodiless powers unto noetic and immaterial understanding, and receiving through the thrice-holy hymn the illumination of the Godhead of Three Hypostases, let me cry out like the Cherubim: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God

–Hymn to the Trinity, First Tone, Matins

O Trinity one in essence and undivided, O Unity of three hypostases and co-eternal, unto Thee, as God, do we cry out the hymn of the Angels: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God . . . Let us glorify after the manner of the Cherubim the beginningless Father, the co-beginningless Son, and co-eternal Spirit, one Godhead: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God

–Hymn to the Trinity, Third Tone, Matins

Through the compassions of Thine Only-begotten Son, with Whom Thou art blessed, together with Thine All-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. . . . Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.

–From the litany before the Symbol of the Faith (the Creed), Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (the above English translations were done by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline).

There are many more examples throughout the various services. Notice the impact of these poetically charged theological statements. (Needless to say, they’re even better in Greek!) With such a wealth of perfectly formulated, artistically excellent, and intellectually stimulating theological hymnography, there is no excuse for the paltry and incorrect, anti-intellectual, obfuscating, and frankly (as in the “They” noted above) blatantly heretical misformulations found in the annotations of the Orthodox Study Bible’s second edition.

A fine example of how to write on the subject of the Trinity is found in Metropolitan KALLISTOS’ beautiful little book The Orthodox Way, p. 30:

Father, Son and Spirit are one in essence, not merely in the sense that all three are examples of the same group or general class, but in the sense that they form a single, unique, specific reality. There is in this respect an important difference between the sense in which the three divine persons are one, and the sense in which three human persons may be termed one. Three human persons, Peter, James, and John, belong to the same general class “man”. Yet, however closely they co-operate together, each retains his own will and his own energy, acting by virtue of his own separate power of initiative. In short, they are three men and not one man. But in the case of the three persons of the Trinity, this is not the case. There is distinction, but never separation. Father, Son and Spirit–so the saints affirm, following the testimony of Scripture–have only one will and not three, only one energy and not three. None of the three ever acts separately, apart from the other two. They are not three Gods, but one God.

Those with a good ear and memory will recognize this line of argument used by His Eminence was used also by St John of Damascus in his work An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, book 1, chapter 8 (from the Chase translation in the Fathers of the Church series, vol. 37, Catholic University of America Press):

Thus, in our mind we see that Peter and Paul are of the same nature and have one common nature, for each is a rational mortal animal and each is a body animated by a rational and understanding soul. Hence, this common nature is perceived by the reason. Now, individual persons do not exist in one another at all, but each one is separate and by itself, that is to say, is distinct and considered in itself, since it has a great many things to distinguish it from the other. For, truly, they are separated in place and they differ in time, judgment, strength, form–or shape, habit, temperament, dignity, manner of life, and all the other distinctive properties–but most of all they differ by the fact that they do not exist in each other but separately. Hence, we speak of two, or three, or several men.

The aforesaid is true of all creation, but it is quite the contrary in the case of the holy, supersubstantial, all-transcendent, and incomprehensible Trinity. For, here, that which is common and one is considered in actuality by reason of the co-eternity and identity of substance, operation, and will, and by reason of the agreement in judgment and the identity of power, virtue and goodness–I did not say similarity but identity–and by reason of the one surge of motion. For there is one essence, one goodness, one virtue, one intent, one operation, one power–one and the same, not three similar one to another, but one and the same motion of the three Persons. And the oneness of each is not less with the others that it is with itself, that is to say, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are one in all things except the being unbegotten, the being begotten, and the procession. It is by thought that the distinction is perceived. For we know one God and Him in the properties of father, and sonship, and procession only. The difference we conceive of according to cause and effect and the perfection of the Person, that is to say, His manner of existing. For with the uncircumscribed Godhead we cannot speak of any difference in place, as we do with ourselves, because the Persons exist in one another, not so as to be confused, but so as to adhere closely together as expressed in the words of the Lord when He said: ‘I in the Father and the Father in me.’ Neither can we speak of a difference in will, or judgment, or operation, or virtue, or any other whatsoever of those things which in us give rise to a definite real distinction. For that reason, we do not call the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost three Gods, but one God, the Holy Trinity, in whom the Son and the Holy Ghost are related to one Cause without any composition or blending….

That’s how it’s done right, shown to you by the modern Διδασκαλος KALLISTOS writing in England, and by the ancient Saint John of Damascus, writing from the Monastery of Saint Sabba in the Judean desert. Both of these writings display the characteristics described in the first post regarding the qualities of Patristic writing: a.) their avoidance of phrasing their writings in a way that might be misconstrued; b.) their consistent usage of the Church’s theological vocabulary; c.) their intent focus on their audience, which are instructed for the benefit of their souls. In fact, both of these works, Metropolitan KALLISTOS’ The Orthodox Way and St John Damaskene’s An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, are used in catechesis this very day, throughout the Orthodox Church. These pellucid and consistently Orthodox writings of catechetical intent are classics, and should be used as models for further such materials.

Let us now compare the notes found in two quite different annotated Bibles. First, The Orthodox New Testament (hereafter ONT), translated and annotated with Patristic and textual commentary single-handedly by Mother Maria of Holy Apostles Convent in Buena Vista, Colorado. Second, The Orthodox Study Bible, first and second editions (hereafter OSB1 and OSB2. Since we’ve been focused on Trinitarian issues, I thought it good to look at a very imporant verse found in the Gospel According to St John the Theologian, 15.26. I will give both the text of the translation and the notes included, which we can then evaluate.

The Orthodox New Testament (the ellipses in the notes are in the ONT itself):

But whenever the Paraclete should come, Whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth Who proceedeth from the Father, that One shall bear witness concerning Me.
Saint John of Damascus: “We believe also in one Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son: the object of equal adoration and glorification with the Father and Son, since He is co-essential and co-eternal. He is addressed along with Father and Son: uncreated, full, creative, all-ruling, all-effecting, all-powerful, of infinite power, Lord of all creation and not under any lord; divinizing, not divinized; filling, not filled; shared in, not sharing in; sanctifying, not sanctified; the Intercessor, receiving the supplications of all; in all things like to the Father and Son, proceeding from the Father and communicated through the Son, and participated in by all creation, through Himself creating, and investing with essence and sanctifying, and maintaining the universe…. He possesses all the qualities that the Father and Son possess, save that of not being begotten or born…. For the Father is unborn, for He is derived from nothing, but derives from Himself His being, nor does He derive a single quality from another. Rather He is Himself the beginning and cause of the existence of all things in a definite and natural manner. But the Son is derived from the Father after the manner of generation, and the Holy Spirit likewise is derived from the Father, yet not after the manner of generation, but after that of procession. And we have learned that there is a difference between generation and procession, but the nature of that difference we in no wise understand. Further, the generation of the Son from the Father and the procession of the Holy Spirit are simultaneous…. For in these hypostatic or personal properties alone do the three holy subsistences differ from each other (of being unbegotten, and of being begotten, and of procession), being indivisibly divided not by essence but by the distinguishing mark of their proper and peculiar subsistence.” [Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk. I, Ch. VIII, in Nicene, 2nd Ser., IX:9.]

Ah! Look, it is our holy friend St John Damaskene back to enlighten us, and in a passage not even a page away from that which I quoted above! What a pleasure.

Now, here is OSB1, text and translation (emphasis theirs):

But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.
While, with respect to God’s work in the world, the Son will give or send . . . the Spirit . . . from the Father, with respect to His divinity, the Spirit originates or proceeds from the Father alone: The Spirit receives His eternal existence only from the Father. In conformity with Christ’s words, the Nicene Creed confesses belief “in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” By contrast, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father (3:16). The source, the fountainhead, of both is the Father.

The translation is identical in OSB2, being that of the New King James Version, so here is the note for that verse (again, emphasis theirs):

With respect to God’s working salvation in the world, the Son sends the Holy Spirit from the Father. With respect to the divine nature, the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father alone. In other words, the Holy Spirit receives His eternal existence only from the Father. In conformity with Christ’s words, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed confesses belief “in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” While the Son is begotten of the Father alone, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone; the source, the Fountainhead, of both Persons is the Father.

The similarities between OSB1 and OSB2 are obvious. The subtle differences are telling, however. For instance, in changing “…the Spirit originates or proceeds from the Father alone…” to “…the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father alone…” the passage becomes truly mystifying to someone with no knowledge of what the notes are discussing. The omission of that simple “originates,” and the other fussy changes introduced (it is merely pedantic to say “the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed”) indicate a failure in didactic consideration for the reader. The changes likewise manage to make the note wordier yet flatter and less clear than the first, which is quite an accomplishment….

In any case, neither of the two OSB editions can hold a candle to the excerpt provided by the ONT from St John Damaskene. Again, we see in this excerpt both quality Orthodox theological instruction and an artistic sensibility at work that make it not only educational and edifying but also pleasurable to read. The combination of theology and art has always been more effective than the bare transmission of dogma. One might even question whether it is truly possible to express Orthodox dogma accurately without some level of artistic expression involved. I don’t think it really is. Just as the mysteries and revelations of the Faith work on us at another level than merely the intellectual, so also do we, in response to that, naturally adapt our manner of expression to attempt to relate that deeper and broader effect of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and our lives in the Holy Spirit: Tradition. What we see in the writings of the Church Fathers is a consistent and devoted attention to aesthetic, to the form and substance in their writing, which often waxes into a nearly transcendent eloquence in prose, and consistently does so in hymnography. Always, however, the Saints’ concern is for the reader’s instruction in Orthodoxy, which instruction is solely for the benefit of the reader’s soul. That is love. And love naturally expresses itself truthfully and with beauty.

It is imperative that Orthodox Theology, in every venue, be expressed not only accurately, but expressed well. If a writer feels unequal to the task, then he simply shouldn’t be writing. In composing somewhat ugly and somewhat heretical expressions, one does damage to the souls exposed to them. Perhaps some have that as their goal, perhaps not a few. But in our Orthodox publishing concerns in English, we need to exercize more caution. Much good material is being produced, but also much more that is certainly not very good, and some of it actually dangerous. We need to be much more discriminating long before these projects hit the shelves, before the book projects are even approved, for the sake of souls both in our sheepfold and in others. Orthodox catechetical materials should be overseen by truly holy people, those known Orthodox Saints living among us, not merely Orthodox celebrities with recognizable names but questionable or nonexistent abilities. Slapping the label “Orthodox” on crap doesn’t validate the crap, but sullies Orthodoxy. We can do better and must do better.

15 Replies to “Form and Substance II”

  1. Thanks for your compelling and well-documented arguments.

    It is a little surprising that the OSB would be confused on this point. Certainly the issue of the Christian Trinity has been a predominant aspect of Christian theology from the very beginning. The very word “Christianity” argues at its special form, as opposed to Judaism — the centrality of Christ to the religion. Christianity was perhaps most distinguished from Judaism by the recruitment of gentiles and the radically different approach to the commandments; but that difference was not so much theological but practical. The great pearl of Christianity, its development of theology (which did not exist in anything like the same degree either in Judaism or the Greek Mystery religions), began with meditation on the Trinity. And, medieval anti-Christian polemics, both from Judaism and Islam, focus in on the Trinity.

    Moreover, the Trinity remains a central focus of every contemporary work on Christian theology. It is hard to see how a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy would not be aware of this issue; indeed, the systematic theologies of Protestantism, whether sublime or crude, all discuss the Trinity at greater length.

    So, this is my question — how could it be that someone writing on this topic could get it wrong? Indeed, can we even say that a theological scholar is “Christian” if he does not understand the Trinity?

  2. Thanks Iyov. (Has your copy arrived yet? I saw some for sale at church on the book table the weekend before last, so they’re out and about in the area now.)

    It’s really hard to tell what’s going on with the OSB commentary. I had thought that many of the errors were simply due to the editors’ squeezing more substantial notes into smaller spaces. But then, there’s the OSB1 to OSB2 alteration in the note mentioned above, where an increase of words is coupled by a decrease in clarity. What seems to have happened is that whoever it was that did the actual editing (as opposed to the impressive names in the masthead) was really not that conversant with the necessary theology, and really, really, really shouldn’t have been the editor. The mistakes made are simply outrageous. I had to tone down the message above repeatedly over the course of its composition. There’s really no excuse for the poor quality of the theology of the notes.

    Being charitable, such writings (and their author!) may still be called Christian (which is a real catch-all these days), as they seem to be simply sloppy errors resulting in the last-minute rush of the project, rather than deliberate obfuscation. But there lies the rub. I feel that it’s something like a sin to rush a Bible translation and annotation through, and such sloppiness is really quite inexcusable. It angers me. And it’s especially galling that this paltry waste of the death of trees pretends to pass as representative of the Orthodox Church, whether in translation (where it doesn’t reflect accurately the Septuagint) or in notes (where it doesn’t reflect accurately Orthodox Theology, and in fact occasionally presents real heresy anathematized in Ecumenical Councils, e.g., the tritheism noted above). One can only throw one’s hands up in the air, roll one’s eyes, and walk away from it. This is the best these people could do in fifteen years? One thing is clear: the result shows that the project was manifestly in the wrong hands from beginning to end.

    But to answer your question directly: yes. We indeed can say that a theological scholar is truly “Christian” who does not understand Trinitarian theology, but not that he is truly a theological scholar. For if they are truly theological scholars, they should know the theology backwards and forwards, and be able to explain it properly to either a six or sixty year old. That latter ability is manifestly not the case found in the OSB. There are, of course, plenty of Christians, undoubtedly the majority, who don’t know Trinitarian theology very well. That’s fine, as that’s not their job, and they wouldn’t be tapped to edit the theological notes of an ostensibly Orthodox Study Bible. (Or maybe they would be by this gang, since it’s obviously happened twice in two attempts already, a 100% trend!) In any case, I’d certainly say they’re still Christians, but not theological scholars. That’s simply the truth of the matter. It’s unfortunate that they offended and drove off those with the kind of scholarship (most of those names in the front matter) that could’ve made this OSB something truly Orthodox in its theology and aesthetic, something truly helpful in study, and a very good Bible translation.

    So, live and learn. Any future attempts (hopefully no more by this cabal!) will take into account the failures of the OSB, editions one and two, and proceed in the other direction. Part of that is where the animus lies in these critiques of mine. We need to know the failures in the process and the execution so that those of us who are going to be working on such projects in the future (as I certainly will be) will avoid each and every pitfall that led to the OSBs. The more critical the eye that is leveled on the OSB now, the better will be the results of the future.

  3. Of course, I agree with all your points, Kevin. My question may have been a bit too brief and acerbic: my point is that according to a famous interpretation (I learned this in Judaism, but I think parallel interpretations are present in Christianity and Islam) that knowledge is required to be a heretic. A simpleton who proclaims a false belief is not really a heretic. This was famously discussed by Maimonides in regard to the anthropomorphization of God (e.g., reading literally “the hand of God”). Less educated people may believe this, but they cannot be heretics, because they don’t know better. However, a scholar who proclaims this is a heretic. Thus, I wonder how a “Christian theologian” could get the trinity wrong and not be a heretic.

    I haven’t received my copy yet — Amazon says I still need to wait a month and a half — which is fine by me because I have other things to read (and because I don’t want to pay a penny more this than I must to “complete my collection.”) In the meanwhile, I am enjoying your dissections (and those of other bloggers).

    I must say, this post was one of your best.

  4. Oh, yes, the same thing applies here. The espoused belief may be objectively a heresy (which is what I was trying to highlight), but the person innocent, if misguided. It’s in the persistent maintenance of that error once confronted and in its promulgation to others that a person becomes a heretic and draws down the full weight of the anathema, canonically. But a mistake isn’t the same thing. However, it’s absolutely repugnant that people put in charge of an Orthodox Study Bible actually, through whatever failure, manage to hit on heresy through their sloppiness. At least I think and hope that that’s the case.

    Thanks for the compliment! And here I thought this post was kind of a mess!

  5. By the way, I’ve been seriously dipping into the NETS translation over the last few weeks. I have to say that the job done on the book is absolutely brilliant. (It amazes me that a volume with so much information and text fits so easily in the hand). Particularly clever was the decision to use the NRSV as a “base text” since it permits rapid comparison with the actual NRSV to find places where the Septuagint substantially differs. (This doesn’t always work perfectly, since the NRSV is somewhat based on an eclectic text, but it seems to work well enough to allow me to then do a comparison in original languages.)

    Thus, the NETS it seems to me succeeds at four levels:

    (a) As a stand-alone translation of the Septuagint

    (b) To show significant different textual variants in our surviving Septuagintal texts through parallel presentation of the text

    (c) In its detailed individual book introductions, which as you have elsewhere remarked, provide the equivalent of a text introducing Septuagintal criticism

    (d) As a tool for comparing the the text of the Septuagint against the received understanding of the Masoretic Text (as reflected in the difference between NRSV and NETS.)

    Now, I am rather impatiently awaiting the commentary volumes.

  6. Oh, and of course, the NETS is half the cost of the OSB (so if one were buying the OSB just for the Septuagint translation, the price difference would be stark.) And it seems based on the experiences of Esteban that the NETS is much better physically produced.

  7. Yes, Iyov, I’m experiencing exactly the same thing in NETS reading. It’s a remarkable volume, and I’m continually more impressed by the scholarship behind it. Likewise, I find the form factor to be just perfect. It’s really surprising that it’s so inexpensive! I’m also impressed by the inclusion of the variant texts, particularly in Esther. I didn’t have a copy of the Alpha text before, so that was a very pleasant surprise. Karen Jobes did a full volume on that text, which I’ve been meaning to pick up. I’m also very impressed by the Sirach, which is a real textual nightmare, but you’d never know it by the deft treatment in NETS.

    To think that the OSB and NETS took the same amount of time to arrive at their results, it’s bewildering!

  8. There are some things wrong with the OSB, but I think you are too picky. It’s not that bad.

    I do agree that we must learn from the Fathers, and learn the theology, but what you are saying seems too legalistic.

    You didn’t say anything about the late dating of the Gospels. If you look at the dates in the intro, some of them favor a post 70 A.D. dating.

    I’m more worried about that then some of the stuff you were.

    JNORM888

  9. No, Norm, any bad is bad. Any “bad” in theological expression is enough to disqualify it. That’s why certain writers in the past have had some of their writings condemned by the Church, and a few had their entire bodies of writing condemned.

    Dating of the gospels is irrelevant. Screwing up what they say by poor commentary is extremely relevant.

  10. The dating of the Gospels is relevant. A late dating means that the Apostles were lying when they spoke about Jesus predicting the fall of the Temple.

    A pre 70 A.D. dat means that the Apostles were telling the truth about Jesus predicting the fall of the Temple.

    One has a presupposition of a belief in the supernatural. While the orther a presupposition of a belief in Atheism.

    And in regards to the Fathers.

    Many of them didn’t say the samething in the same way. Their is diversity of style. They all didn’t say the samething in regards to the same topic.

    Unity doesn’t = 100% uniformity.

    The OSB didn’t really screw up what they said. In your other post……about the OSB1 and the OSB2.

    I didn’t see a change in theology. What I saw was a more efficient way of saying the samething.

    What the OSB1 said, in regards to “Father alone & Origin” was “teutology”.

    If you already have the term “Father alone”. Then it should be a givin that the Father is the only origin of the Holy Spirit. You don’t need both for that would be “teutology”.

    Saint Ephram didn’t always use the same style. There is no such thing as an Eastern Orthodox “uniform” style. There is a variety of styles that the ancients used.

    What I see are “boundaries”. I don’t see a legalistic approarch.

    JNORM888

  11. So what you want is 100% uniformity in how we express Eastern Orthodoxy in English?

    You want a 100% uniformity of words & format. Is this what you are saying?

    If this is what you are saying then I’m going to have to disagree.

    I will agree on a 100% uniformity in regards to boundaries. But we never had 100% uniformity in all of the words that we used and the format we used them in.

    Are you saying that we must be in 100% uniformity on every word?

    Or are you saying we must be in agreement on some of the key words?

    I will agree that we have to be in 100% uniformity on the key words that are “particular” to Eastern Orthodoxy.

    But being in 100% uniformity on every single word and in every format is a bit too much. I mean, we don’t even have the same canon of scripture for crying out loud.

    I kind of see what you are saying, but everyone isn’t on the same level of understanding. We live in an age where most people can read, but we are at different reading levels.

    So this should be takin into account.

    I hope I wasn’t mean or rude to you.

    JNORM888

  12. Norm, yes, that’s what I’m saying. There is a shared vocabulary we have in writing about Orthodox theology, and in translating such writings into English, that needs to be respected. Similarly, there are undoubtedly wrong ways of expressing our theology, and that’s what I’m taking issue with. I have no issue with writing for different levels of reading comprehension (which is the issue at hand in the differences I noted above between the first and second editions — the first edition is clearer for those who don’t already know Orthodox theology on the subject), but after taking into account those levels of language, things still need to be absolutely perfectly and properly expressed, especially when we’re dealing with theology. There is no room for error, and that’s where the important part of our attention needs to be directed. That’s because an error in theological language in a book which is intended to assist readers in gaining understanding of Orthodox theology will lead to an improper understanding of Orthodox theology.

  13. (I’m sure it would help if I were explaining it all more clearly, which I don’t think I am!) I know it does seem overly critical and even nit-picky of me to a degree, but this is Orthodox Theology we’re talking about, not the baking of chocalate chip cookies, which is something that can be done myriads of ways and yet still result in acceptable and eminently palatable products. Orthodox theological language is precise, and while there is some leeway in it (noting, as you mentioned, the different accepted forms of expression in various languages) there are still boundaries as to what is truly acceptable. That’s because the formulation of Orthodox theological expression took place within extended discussions that specified not only how something should be said (orthodox expression in definitions, symbols/creeds, canons, etc), but different other ways in which something must not be said (heterodox or even heretical expression). One must have a wide and deep knowledge of the entire history of this development of theological language in order to avoid such various mistaken and sometimes anathematized formulations. The learning necessary is daunting, but the responsibility is moreso, being the highest possible level of responsibility for a teacher: instruction for the salvation of souls! We cannot take theology seriously enough.

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