Saturday, 24 September 2011

Florovsky: 'Dogmas Do Not Develop'

Fr George Florovsky (1893-1979) is my favourite Orthodox theologian, mostly because he was not afraid to challenge the shibboleths of Western philosophy and theology and call his church to a more thoroughly Christian outlook (not unlike Luther!), while yet avoiding the speculative tendencies that mar the work of some of his Orthodox contemporaries (e.g. Florensky and Bulgakov's 'Sophiology'). One of those shibboleths was the notion of the development of dogma/doctrine, which became a fashionable idea in the theological world in the mid-19th century and has never lost its axiomatic status since, despite its contradictions (see recent posts here on John Henry Newman's lamentable legacy in this regard). Here's Florovsky on why the notion of 'development of dogma' is a 'total misunderstanding' of revelation:
'Dogma is by no means a new Revelation. Dogma is only a witness. The whole meaning of dogmatic definition consists of testifying to unchanging truth, truth which was revealed and has been preserved from the beginning. Thus it is a total misunderstanding to speak of 'the development of dogma.' Dogmas do not develop; they are unchanging and inviolable, even in their external aspect — their wording. Least of all is it possible to change dogmatic language or terminology. As strange as it may appear, one can indeed say: dogmas arise, dogmas are established, but they do not develop. And once established, a dogma is perennial and already an immutable 'rule of faith' ('regula fidei'; o kanon tis pisteos, ο κανων της πιστεως). Dogma is an intuitive truth, not a discursive axiom which is accessible to logical development. The whole meaning of dogma lies in the fact that it is expressed truth. Revelation discloses itself and is received in the silence of faith...'


From 'Revelation, Philosophy and Theology' (this article originally appeared as 'Offenbarung, Philosophic und Theologie' in Zwischen den Zeiten, Heft 6, München, 1931. Translated from the German by Richard Haugh.)

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Speaking of speculative theology and Pavel Florensky in particular, this Russian polymath turned priest, who was executed during one of the Stalinist anti-Christian purges of the 1930s, had the interesting idea that the geometry of imaginary numbers predicted by Einstein's theory of relativity for a body moving faster than light would actually be the geometry of the kingdom of God. Intriguing in light of the claims by CERN scientists that the have forced the sub-atomic particles known as neutrinos to exceed the speed of light!

9 comments:

Lvka said...

Someting tells me you might probably enjoy this read as well...

Pr Mark Henderson said...

The religion of the future: from Newman to Teilhard to JPII praying with Hindus at Assisi in 1986...where to next for the Roman antichrist? Rome can absorb all things, provided they acknowledge the Pope's supremacy, Lucian. Orthodox, take note (refer 1965).

st_ignatius110 said...

What an awesome quote. Thank you for sharing this. I'm told by a Russian Orthodox friend that Fr. John Behr also something to say about the "development of doctrine" in his second volume on Nicene theology, though I have yet to read it myself.

I've recently posted something on the Tridentine understanding of divine revelation and Vatican II's. You might be interested. Tomorrow I'll be posting another piece that touches upon the practical out workings of such views.

Frank said...

Pastor, the post that was recently submitted is mine. I accidentally posted it under my wife's name.

Terry Maher said...

If anyone has no idea what Teilhard is talking about, it is the author of the linked-to article.

Back to the subject, the idea of the development of doctrine, if Florovsky is right, then dogma must have waited for the conversion of Greeks so that it could become neoPlatonism, or for the Scholastics.

The "development of doctrine" has two more current watchwords. aggiornamento and approfondimento, by which existentialism and phenomenology took the role assumed by Platonism and Aristotelianism centuries ago.

In the end the Roman Church is no different than the Roman Empire or its previous state religion -- you can carry on pretty much as you please, as long as you do not bolt the Empire/Church.

Lvka said...

Fr George Florovsky (1893-1979) is my favourite Orthodox theologian


Mine is Yeshua ben Yosef (1-33). He said something about calling no man "Fr".

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P.S.: My baptismal name is Lucian. My family name is Craciun.

Schütz said...

I have no real difficulty with Florovsky's point - and as such it doesn't really contradict the Catholic position. For us too, the dogmatic definitions cannot "develop" - they are an historical witness to the Truth. So I like what Florovsky says about "dogma is only a witness". Yet the witness must ever anew address new situations, and new situations call for new "witness". In this, one cannot change the established definitions, but one can further clarify and define points in the earlier witness that do not properly address the new situation. Perhaps you would be more comfortable with the term "development of witness to the Truth"? In which case, that is what we mean when we speak of the 'development of doctrine'.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thanks David. I'll check your blog as soon as I can; I have been a little busy lately.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

And yet, Lucian, you persist in calling me 'Father'!? :0)