History of Eastern Orthodox theology in the 20th century

20th century Eastern Orthodox theology has been dominated by neo-Palamism, the revival of St. Palamas and hesychasm. John Behr characterizes Orthodox theology as having been "reborn in the twentieth century."[1] Norman Russell describes Orthodox theology as having been dominated by an "arid scholasticism" for several centuries after the fall of Constantinople. Russell describes the postwar re-engagement of modern Greek theologians with the Greek Fathers with the help of diaspora theologians and Western patristic scholars.[2] A significant component of this re-engagement with the Greek Fathers has been a rediscovery of Palamas by Greek theologians who had previously been given less attention than the other Fathers.[3]

According to Michael Angold, the "rediscovery of [Palamas'] writings by theologians of the last century has played a crucial role in the construction of present-day Orthodoxy.[4] Bishop Kallistos (Ware) has predicted that "the twentieth century will be remembered as the century of Palamas".

Russian émigré theologians

After the Russian Revolution, many Orthodox theologians fled Russia and founded centers of Orthodox theology in the West. The most notable of these were the Orthodox Theological Institute of St. Serguis in Paris and Orthodox Seminary of St. Vladimir in New York.[5] Daniel Payne asserts that, in the 1940s, "Russian émigré theologians rediscovered the ascetic-theology of St. Gregory Palamas." From this rediscovery, according to Payne, "Palamas' theology became the basis for an articulation of an Orthodox theological identity apart from Roman Catholic and Protestant influences. Florovsky and Lossky opposed the efforts of the Slavophile movement to identify a uniquely Russian approach to Orthodox theology. They advocated instead a return to the Greek fathers in what Florovsky called a "Neo-Patristic Synthesis".[6] Payne characterizes the work of Georges Florovsky and Vladimir Lossky as having "set the course for Orthodox theology in the twentieth century."[7]

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfayev identifies five main streams within the theology of the “Paris school”.

The first, associated with the names of Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern), Fr. Georges Florovsky, Vladimir Lossky, Archbishop Basil (Krivocheine) and Fr. John Meyendorff, was dedicated to the cause of “Patristic revival.”

The second stream, represented in particular by Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, is rooted in the Russian religious renaissance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; here, the influence of Eastern patristics was interwoven with German idealism and the religious views of Vladimir Soloviev stream.

The third prepared the ground for the “liturgical revival” in the Orthodox Church and is related to the names of Fr. Nicholas Afanassieff and Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

Characteristic of the fourth stream was an interest in Russian history, literature, culture and spirituality; to this stream belong G. Fedotov, K. Mochulsky, I. Kontzevich, Fr. Sergius Tchetverikoff, A. Kartashev and N. Zernov, to name but a few.

The fifth stream developed the traditions of Russian religious philosophical thought and was represented by N. Lossky, S. Frank, L. Shestoff and Fr. Basil Zenkovsky.

One of the central figures of “Russian Paris” was Nicholas Berdyaev, who belonged to none of these...[8]

According to Michael Gibson, "Lossky’s paradigm pivots on a double-sided narrative that posits a theological failure of the West characterized as ‘rationalist’ and ‘philosophical,’ the antithesis of which is the unbroken Eastern theological tradition of pure apophaticism and mystico-ecclesial experience."[9]

Vladimir Lossky

Vladimir Lossky's main theological concern was exegesis on mysticism in the Orthodox tradition. He stated in The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church that the Orthodox maintained their mystical tenets while the West lost them after the East-West Schism. A loss of these tenets by the West was due to a misunderstanding of Greek terms such as ousia, hypostasis, theosis, and theoria. He cites much of the mysticism of the Eastern Orthodox Church as expressed in such works as the Philokalia, St Ladder of Divine Ascent, and various others by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, StGregory of Nyssa, St Basil the Great, St Gregory Nazianzus, and StGregory Palamas. Father Georges Florovsky termed V Lossky's Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church as a "neopatristic synthesis".[10]

Lossky's main tenet of the Mystical Theology was to show through reference to the Greek Fathers works of the ancient Church that their theosis was above knowledge (gnosis).[10] This was further clarified in his work Vision of God (or theoria). In both works Lossky shows some of the differences between Eastern Orthodoxy i.e. Saint Dionysus the Areopagite's work and Plotinus and the tenets of Neoplatonism. Asserting that Eastern Orthodoxy and Neoplatonism, though they share common culture and concepts, are not the same thing and have very different understandings of God and ontology.

Lossky, like his close friend Father Georges Florovsky, was opposed to the sophiological theories of FatherSergei Bulgakov and Vladimir Soloviev. In the words of Lossky's own father 1. The term Russian religious philosophy being Neoplatonic as such, having its origin in the works of the slavophile movement and its core concept of sobornost. Which was later used and developed by Vladimir Soloviev.

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