Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Patristic Fundamentalism"

I've been neglecting this blog.
First it was because I was traveling.
Now I'm home, but whenever I start to blog I do what's easiest - post stories and reflections from my trip to China. So... if you want to know what's been on my mind... head over here and read my China stories!

There are things stirring to post about, though. I wanted to mention this brilliant post on Fr. Ted's blog about what he refers to as patristic fundamentalism. He is reflecting on and quoting from an article by Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis.

Really, he pinpoints one of the things I am most uncomfortable with in the Eastern Orthodox church, despite being very drawn to many other things.

Orthodoxy’s efforts to define itself by adopting an absolutist and oppositional attitude Western Christianity has caused the Orthodox to become exclusivist and even sectarian, despite proclaiming in the creed a belief in a universal/catholic church.

Thing is, the respect and emphasis on the historical continuity from the early church is one of the things that my husband and I love most about the Orthodox Church. However, if you treat the Fathers wrongly, you can end up with patristic fundamentalism. Kalaitzidis says:

The consequences of this ‘return to the Fathers’ and the subsequent overemphasis on patristic studies were, among other things: (1) the neglect and devaluation of biblical studies; (2) an ahistorical approach to patristic theology and a subsequent exaltation of traditionalism;(3) a tendency toward introversion and Orthodox theology’s near total absence from the major theological developments and trends of the 20th century; (4) the polarization of East and West, and the cultivation and consolidation of an anti-western and anti-ecumenical spirit; and (5) a weak theological response to the challenges posed by the modern world and; more generally, the unresolved theological issues still remaining in the relationship between Orthodoxy and modernity.

Fr. Ted's conclusion was really encouraging to me. If people within Orthodoxy are identifying this and are willing to fight it, it says to me that there is a place for others who are uncomfortable with this tendancy, and that you can question adn wrestle with things within Orthodoxy:

The end result of this process is that the Orthodox by invoking the Fathers for every problem we face has simply created a “patristic fundamentalism” exactly like the biblical fundamentalism Orthodox reject, including an endless proof texting of the Fathers. Passages and quotes are totally removed from their context and put in collections of sayings that are treated like magic. No longer do the Orthodox feel the need to study, wrestle with or interpret the Scriptures for now all they have to do is read quotes from the Fathers which become the Scriptures for Orthodox. Orthodoxy today sometimes behaves as if it is a house which must keep its doors shut and blinds drawn on its windows so as not to see the world, yet somehow hoping the world will be attracted to the house by its strangeness.
If these problems are identified and fought against, there is great hope for growth.


s-p said...

Hi Kacie, Interesting that you posted this two days after I got a copy of it from some people I've been having a long discussion with about gay marriage and the Orthodox Church from my podcast on same sex attraction. Basically they support most of the "liberal protestant agendas" (gay marriage, ordination of women etc., radical ecumenism) see this document as the justification for the OC to move in that direction, after all the "modern scholars" are all going there... The interesting historical background is that this document is a reaction to the 20th century "return to the patristics" movement led by people like Florovsky, Nellas etc. who saw Orthodox theology as overly influenced by Western thought since about the 17th century when Orthodoxy became enamored with the West and its scholastics and wanted to re-establish an intellectual and spiritual respect for the patristics. However, as Fr. Ted notes, the pendulum swings and the movement resulted in a fringe element (that protestant converts seem to pick up on and run with... well DUH!) that exchanges "sola scriptura" for "sola patristics". I've been around both protestantism and now Orthodoxy long enough to see the problems with both. On the one hand you have "Orthodox scholars" who are teaching stuff like the old German "documentary hypothesis" approach to the Bible when a great deal of it has been debunked (no one wrote anything in the Bible with their name on it is being taught in our seminaries), and on the other you have people running around like monkabees all in black and dressed like Russian peasants. Whenever I read documents like this one I wonder what the "real" agenda is? It is true the OC needs to engage the culture and "modern issues", that the faith is living and the Holy Spirit didn't leave after the last apostle died, nor after the 7th ecumenical council. I know enough Bishops and priests to know that the leadership (and laity) are interested in figuring out how the Church relates to "modern issues", and I know enough people who convert to the Church who use it as a retreat from their former church's embrace of all things modern (and that is frankly a highly visible population on the internet unfortunately). So, I believe Fr. Ted is correct but I also believe that we need to engage modern movements and scholarship with somewhat of a jaundiced eye based on what we've seen happen in the modern protestant Church (like "The Jesus Seminar") due to uncritical acceptance of "modern theological developments and trends in the 20th century". The bunker mentality and the open door policy are both problematic for ANY church.

Lucian said...

!! Orthodoxy extols women-beating, male misoginist Saints!! -- just check out #3 and #4 !! -- And also at #4: Saints punching priests!! -- so much for the MYTH that Orthodoxy teaches "reverence for reverends". :-)