Jump to content


Photo
- - - - -

Is there a place in the Church for pseudo-theologians?


  • Please log in to reply
10 replies to this topic

#1 Rdr. Elias

Rdr. Elias

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • Pip
  • 22 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 26 November 2016 - 02:00 PM

The title is more tongue-in-cheek than anything. I grew up Orthodox and know we don't typically have theologians in the Western sense. It's not a job title, but an honorary one bestowed only three times by the Church. I also realize that Orthodoxy puts more of a focus on the spiritual.

So, to my point: I love studying theology. I have a lot of Orthodox theology books on my shelf. I'm planning on starting seminary soon in order to learn and use that knowledge to serve the Church in some capacity.

What I'm wondering is...is there a place for a layman who goes on, let's say, to receive a doctorate and dedicates a lot of time to study theology? I have a few specific areas that I find fascinating (Liturgical theology, for one) and I constantly think of how the theology of the Church plays into modern society and how we use it to tackle modern issues. Finally, I also think of how scholastic western society is and how that knowledge can help as a witness (for instance, apologetics and such or speaking with non-Orthodox).

Anyway, I'm just wondering if there is a place for someone with the interests I have or if it would be a waste of time. I understand...prayer and spirituality is the prime "theology" of Orthodoxy, but is there a place for more academic/scholarly stuff.

#2 Phoebe K.

Phoebe K.

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 275 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 26 November 2016 - 03:28 PM

There has always been a place for lay people who are knowledgeable in theology. We celebrated Kathrine the Great Martyr yesterday who was an defender of the faith in her time and died a lay person just as she lived.  As I understand it the Church has never had anything against academic study itself, but rather the pagan Philosophy which was prominent in schools during the early church era.

 

I know that Elder Saphrony sent some of his monastics to study academic theology both those who have since become hiromonks and a number of the Sisters also have postgraduate degrees.

 

We need academics who are foucosed on the truth of Christ and how the fathers expressed this though rather than ones who wish to argue for their personal agenda, as the latter is where error can creep in whoever is doing the studying.  There is a place in the Church for the academic whether they end up being ordained to major orders, minor orders (such as that of the catechist) or not at all.  Lay theologians are an important balance to the clerical theologians as they have the time to dig deeply into subjects.

 

We must however always remember that academic theology is a tool which can be used to explain or illustrate the mystery of the divine as far as that is possible in human terms, not the final destination.



#3 Rdr. Elias

Rdr. Elias

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • Pip
  • 22 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 26 November 2016 - 06:34 PM

Interesting. Thank you. My goal would obviously not to "develop" or define new theology. The Father's and Councils have already taken care of that.

It's more wanting to study how it applies to today. The world is a different place and while recently we're seeing a rise in books and articles, I still feel more can be done. Furthermore, I feel like liturgical theology could use more study, personally.

I was just curious because you don't see too many Orthodox scholars (especially laymen) and Orthodoxy has tended to favor the more mystical side, but I don't think that works as well when witnessing to the west, not to mention that people don't always know how to apply the Father's to today. I love studying theology and want to help with that.

#4 Rdr Andreas

Rdr Andreas

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,015 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 26 November 2016 - 07:30 PM

I am thinking of theologians such as Professor Giorgos Mantzarides (who supervised Archimandrite Zacharias in his PhD) and Professor Andrew Louth in England who became a priest, the latter especially 'witnessing to the west' to an extent. I see a place for the sort of lay theologian who interacts with parish priests and monastics such that between them they minister both personally and, in the case of some priests and monastics, more widely through their publications. This is probably more necessary in the west where the faithful may be far from a monastery or from priest well trained in Orthodox theology.



#5 Anna Stickles

Anna Stickles

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,363 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 27 November 2016 - 08:12 PM

Maybe you could talk to a laymen who is in this position and find out more about this path. There are a number out there - Christopher Veniamin's name comes to mind, most of the other academically orientied Orthodox I can think of off-hand that are fairly well known are either monks or clergy, but I am sure there are others that are simply not coming to mind right now, and many that I do not know of. 



#6 Rdr. Elias

Rdr. Elias

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • Pip
  • 22 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 30 November 2016 - 02:26 AM

I am thinking of theologians such as Professor Giorgos Mantzarides (who supervised Archimandrite Zacharias in his PhD) and Professor Andrew Louth in England who became a priest, the latter especially 'witnessing to the west' to an extent. I see a place for the sort of lay theologian who interacts with parish priests and monastics such that between them they minister both personally and, in the case of some priests and monastics, more widely through their publications. This is probably more necessary in the west where the faithful may be far from a monastery or from priest well trained in Orthodox theology.

 

Thank you very much! I would love to be some sort of help to the Church, whether at a more local level or on a wider level. Obviously, at this point, I can't say where I would fit in as I'm just getting started and refuse to be presumptuous enough to say that one day I would write books, etc. Though, the idea strikes me as something I would enjoy doing. My main interest is exploring more into liturgical theology as well as how to apply the teachings of the Church to today. We obviously live in a very different world than the Fathers did, but I think that we need people that can link what the Fathers said with today because it's easy to dismiss things as "That was written in a different time" not realizing those things still apply. 

 

 

Maybe you could talk to a laymen who is in this position and find out more about this path. There are a number out there - Christopher Veniamin's name comes to mind, most of the other academically orientied Orthodox I can think of off-hand that are fairly well known are either monks or clergy, but I am sure there are others that are simply not coming to mind right now, and many that I do not know of. 

 

So far my research hasn't come up with a lot of laymen, but I will continue as you said. I would love to speak with some. Unfortunately, many of the ones I see today strike me as way too "let's catch up with modern times" (i.e. on things such as homosexuality, negative types of social justice, etc.).



#7 Lakis Papas

Lakis Papas

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 613 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 03 December 2016 - 12:07 PM

Academic studies are mainly for professional purposes.

If you plan to make a living from your studies, then most likely you will seek a job in the church, or as academic teacher. This is no different from any other job training decision making.

If you plan to use your studies in a non professional way, then you have to ask whether you need more theoretical knowledge than practical experience so that you may best serve your goal.

Also one has to consider how exactly theological studies are structured. Theoretical studies may include many aspects that are not defined as theological, such as social, grammatical, historical or other subjects.

#8 Panayotis

Panayotis

    Member

  • Members
  • Pip
  • 12 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 05 December 2016 - 02:58 AM

By the Grace of God, the fiery sermons of lay theologians such as Dimitrios Panagopoulos and Nikolaos Sotiropoulos led many souls to
repentance, which is the privilege of communion with our Lord. And I think that this is what a theologian is: somebody who can lead people to God through repentance.

 

But the thing is that we can't give to somebody what we don't already have ourselves. So if we are not in a state of repentance, our
theology will reflect that and the result will be that it will not bear fruit in people's hearts or even much worse, it may lead others astray. That's what St.
Paisios of Mount Athos meant when he used to say that attempting to theologize without first purifying the heart is like serving honey in a gasoline canister.

 

Earlier, St. John of Kronstadt had basically echoed this same point:

 

"It is extremely dangerous to develop—to educate—onlythe understanding, the intellect, and to ignore the heart. We must, above all,
attend to the heart, for the heart is life... , so that it may direct all the thoughts, desires, and inclinations of the man throughout his life."

 

And Fr. Seraphim Rose, while describing the background of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco identified key ingredients for the lay
theologian as well:

 

"Even more important for a true theologian—and by a true theologian we mean someone who truly speaks the words of God and does not
just repeat what he sees in books. Namely, he was from a very pious family; he was himself extremely devout in his childhood; he had experience of Holy Russia before the Revolution; he went to monasteries; he venerated the miracle-working icons; he had veneration for the saints and holy men; he read Lives of Saints; and he absorbed the whole atmosphere in Russia, which was then still possible for devout people. That is why later on he became such a great theologian and such a holy man."

 

Since dogmatic study has the potential to inflame the passion of pride if we are not careful, the great lay theologian of our day, Dimitrios Tselengidis, Professor of Dogmatics at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, counsels that while theological education seeks to fill the student’s mind with information, it should instead be oriented towards producing the conviction in the student that what is theirs is useless.  Another layman – for whom great monastics said they were ashamed to compare themselves to - Photis Kontoglou, agreed with this and wrote that academic theological education is totally fine when it is joined to piety.



#9 Brian Glass

Brian Glass

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • 0 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 13 January 2017 - 09:56 PM

Rdr. Elias,

 

I too am a lay person who enjoys theological pursuits. At one point I thought I was called to enter the ranks of the clergy. It was with this urge in mind that I enrolled with the Saints Cyril and Athanasius School of Orthodox Studies. I nearly completed the certificate program there, but the program was put on hold for a time so I haven't been able to complete it (long story). At any rate, during the course of this program and due to various other events in my life, it became pretty clear that my "calling" was bogus. It was rooted in arrogance. Heck, I don't even want to be a Reader anymore.

 

Nevertheless, I continue to enjoy theological pursuits (though not theology in the technical sense). Some of the things that I learned at the institute piqued my interest and I have chosen to delve more deeply into those things on my own. As others have pointed out, it is important to ensure that prayer and other forms of piety are not neglected. That is, I have to be careful not to consume all my time with study or other work. I can become addicted to the work to the exclusion of other important things. But I think, with balance, a "lay theologian" or "independent scholar," can make a useful contribution to the Church. In this country and in general in the English speaking world, Orthodoxy is quite immature. Many of the great works of the Church have not been made available to us and thus contributions can be made. American Orthodoxy is young.

 

I too have been looking for others like myself who wish to embark on independent research to help deepen the experience of Orthodoxy in the west. Perhaps it is arrogant to think that I can contribute. That is probably true. And without my contribution the Church will carry on without missing a step. But I enjoy this work and want to continue with it even though it has minuscule value. Perhaps at some point a society of lay scholars could be established, but the first step is to make one connection between two individuals.

 

At any rate, if you wish to look at the sort of activities I engage in, you can visit my blog. In my time at the institute I embarked on the writing of a dissertation. I was never able to submit the dissertation, but have broken it up into a series of blog posts. I've also begun a project of translating a commentary on the book of Judith. In this project I feel that I can make a contribution by making the contribution of someone greater than myself accessible to people who can't presently access it.

 

I'm a software engineer turned manager and I have a regular day job. I don't have any credentials or recognized theological education. I don't get paid to be an armchair theologian. It's what I do in my spare time because it's what I want to do.

 

I'd like to continue the conversation with you if you're willing.



#10 Ken McRae

Ken McRae

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 549 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 18 June 2017 - 10:17 PM

The title is more tongue-in-cheek than anything. I grew up Orthodox and know we don't typically have theologians in the Western sense.


Not sure what you really mean by "theologians in the Western sense," but as I've posted here long ago (in the past), there is a clear history of apophatic theology in the West; the stream of which flows through Augustine, Boethius, Erigena, Eckhart (and his disciples, like Ruysbroeck,) the unknown author of 'The Cloud of Unknowing', Nicholas of Cusa and John of the Cross; to name but a few of the main Western exponents for it.

Augustine's Method for Knowledge of God 
http://augustinianparadigm.com/#Method

According to St. Augustine, God speaks directly to man in a non-material way:--

"For when God speaks to man in this way, he does not need the medium of any material created thing. He does not make audible sounds to bodily ears; nor does He use the kind of 'spiritual' intermediary which takes on a bodily shape... But when God speaks in the way we are talking of, He speaks by the direct impact of the truth, to anyone who is capable of hearing with the mind instead of with the ears of the body." 

The mind or intellect which is open to the truth is presented by God with truthful ideas. This is the concept of Divine illumination of the intellect.

"It was through that Wisdom that all things were made; and that Wisdom 'passes' also into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets, and tells them, inwardly and soundlessly, the story of God's works."

By Wisdom Augustine means the Holy Spirit. The source of knowledge of God is the Holy Spirit. Revelation is, then, the result of Divine illumination of the intellect by the Holy Spirit, and  describes the purposes and acts of God.

"We apprehend material things by our bodily senses, but it is not by our bodily senses that we form a judgment on them. For we have another sense, far more important than any bodily sense, the sense of the inner man, by which we apprehend what is just and what is unjust, the just by means of the 'idea' which is presented to the intellect, the unjust by the absence of it. The working of this sense has nothing to do with the mechanism of the eye, ear, smell, taste, or touch. It is through this sense that I am assured of my existence; and through this I love both existence and knowledge, and am sure that I love them." - St Augustine's 'City of God' (Book 11, Chapter 3, 2. Chapter 3, 4.).

N.B. - Observe Augustine's use of the term 'intellect' and how it parallels the use of the term 'nous' by Orthodox theologians.

Meister Eckhart on Divine Knowledge - C. F. Kelley || Google Books

A. Theoria According to Meister Eckhart
https://books.google...cy_C1wQ6AEINTAJ

B.  Eckhart on 'The Divine Spark' (i.e. Nous)
https://books.google...e spark&f=false

The Cloud of Unknowing || Christian Classics Ethereal Library
http://www.ccel.org/...ous2/cloud.html

Nicholas of Cusa – A Companion to his Life and his Times || Google Books
https://books.google...eB7ARsQ6AEILTAF

Personally, I've never heard of anyone in the "west," let alone read anything "western" in origin that even remotely maintains the possibility of becoming a "true" theologian without a profound communion with the Holy Trinity; and divine illumination of the intellect by the Holy Spirit. 

In other words, I have never seen or read any "Western theologian" teach that a "formal/academic" theological "degree," or a piece of paper from an academic institution is what makes a "true" theologian.

If you've read or seen that stated anywhere, in Western theology, that without an "academic" theological degree, one can never become a true theologian, I'd like to know where?

For whatever it's worth, the following quote is from the "current" Catholic Catechism:--

236) The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). "Theology" refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and "economy" to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the 
oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia. God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.

(The Catechism of the Catholic Church -- On The Father
http://www.vatican.v...m/p1s2c1p2.htm  )

It's not a job title, but an honorary one bestowed only three times by the Church.


Surely that doesn't mean they are the only true theologians in the Orthodox Church!

Many, many others, like Sts. Maximus the Confessor and Gregory Palamas, to name but two others, are every bit as much the true theologian as those three are; despite having never had that honorary title officially bestowed upon them. 

That goes without saying, obviously; but in this respect, I think it would be helpful for you to read 'Hesychia and Theology', by Metropolitan Hierotheos.

A great book! Sheds much light on the topic, as do all his excellent books!

I also realize that Orthodoxy puts more of a focus on the spiritual.


So does the West (at least in my opinion). I've NEVER seen it stated anywhere (in the West), where the physical, or the reasoning faculty trumps "the spiritual mind," (or the mind of the spirit; i.e. "the hidden man of the heart,") in acquiring the living  knowledge of the Living God.

If you've got sources to prove it, that the West focuses less on "the spiritual," than the physical senses, in acquiring the knowledge of God, I'd like to see your sources for that.

So, to my point: I love studying theology. I have a lot of Orthodox theology books on my shelf. I'm planning on starting seminary soon in order to learn and use that knowledge to serve the Church in some capacity.

What I'm wondering is... is there a place for a layman who goes on, let's say, to receive a doctorate and dedicates a lot of time to study theology?


Yes, of course, there is; but the most important consideration of all is to correctly discern the will of God for your life.

If God wants you to spend more time in prayer than in academic theology studies, then why set to striving for a theology doctorate, before acquiring the grace of unceasing prayer?

If you were to untake anything God has not specifically willed for your life, wouldn't that hinder your prayer life, and the attainment of unceasing prayer?

Finally, I also think of how scholastic western society is and how that knowledge can help as a witness (for instance, apologetics and such or speaking with non-Orthodox).


The Church can always use more missionaries and apologists, of course, but once again, acquiring the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and true inner peace, as taught by the saints, (and St. Seraphim of Sarov most notably,) will lead to greater missionary success than two theological degrees. I'm certain of that.

The only reason you should ever enter upon the path your enquiring about is that you are reasonably certain God is leading you in that direction.

A spiritual pilgrimage, to Mount Athos perhaps, or some other holy desert, for the purpose of intense prayer and fasting, may help you attain greater clarity about God's particular will for your life.

May the Spirit of Christ enlighten your steps upon the strait and narrow path of salvation. 

#11 Ken McRae

Ken McRae

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 549 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 18 June 2017 - 10:30 PM

If you were to untake anything God has not specifically willed for your life, wouldn't that hinder your prayer life ...


"Untake." A typo in my previous post that I was unable to edit; (which was one reason why I stopped posting on this forum;) it should've read "undertake;" not "untake."




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users