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Are the Orthodox opposed to Thomas Aquinas?


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#1 Jacob

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Posted 18 September 2009 - 11:23 AM

Hello friends,
While I am no expert, I have done some reading on Thomas Aquinas and some Thomisms. I realize that as a whole, if I recall correctly, the Orthodox church doesn't smile on Scholasticism (and I certainly see why!). But at the same time, I found this entry on St Thomas Aquinas at orthowiki

However, more recent scholarship has distinguished between Aquinas and the manner in which his theology was received and altered by the Schoolmen who came after him. Aquinas may be seen as the culmination of patristic tradition, rather than as the initiator of a tradition discontinuous with what came before. Vladimir Lossky, e.g., in praising the existential Thomism of the Catholic philosopher Etienne Gilson, refers to "the authentic Thomism of S. Thomas ..., a thought rich with new perspectives which the philosophical herd, giving in to the natural tendency of the human understanding, was not slow in conceptualizing, and changing into school Thomism, a severe and abstract doctrine, because it has been detached rom its vital source of power." The recent work of Anna Williams and others has pointed to the importance of deification in Aquinas and his similarity with St Gregory Palamas.



#2 Owen Jones

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Posted 18 September 2009 - 01:47 PM

This is based on very superficial knowledge on my part, but according to my pastoral theology prof who did his thesis on Thomas, his basic requirement was to reconcile Aristotle with St. Dionysius the Aireopagite. Now, nothing against Aristotle, but by the time of Thomas in the West, you really were not permitted to say anything that conflicted with Aristotle. And this is perhaps where the "problem" lies. Insofar as there is a problem with Aristotle, you have a division between the natural and the supernatural that carries over into medieval philosophy, a division that is not quite so distinct and separate in Orthodoxy. Again, this is a very superficial treatment, but one might say that Aristotle for the most part rejects Plato's primary vision (Aristotle was not one for visions, and in fact ridiculed Platonic visions) that we are participants in divinity. But what can you say about
Dionysius apart from the vision thing?
Again, very superficial.

#3 Jacob

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Posted 18 September 2009 - 07:07 PM

This is based on very superficial knowledge on my part, but according to my pastoral theology prof who did his thesis on Thomas, his basic requirement was to reconcile Aristotle with St. Dionysius the Aireopagite. Now, nothing against Aristotle, but by the time of Thomas in the West, you really were not permitted to say anything that conflicted with Aristotle. And this is perhaps where the "problem" lies. Insofar as there is a problem with Aristotle, you have a division between the natural and the supernatural that carries over into medieval philosophy, a division that is not quite so distinct and separate in Orthodoxy. Again, this is a very superficial treatment, but one might say that Aristotle for the most part rejects Plato's primary vision (Aristotle was not one for visions, and in fact ridiculed Platonic visions) that we are participants in divinity. But what can you say about
Dionysius apart from the vision thing?
Again, very superficial.


Mr Jones,
I think you are right, or at least that is my understanding anyway. The Thomists and neo-Thomists I have read have highlighted the neo-Platonic and Dionysian moments in Aquinas. This cut against the grain of the Aristotelian Thomists.

#4 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 05:11 AM

St Thomas Aquinas was first and foremost a Christian theologian. He did not hesitate to criticize Aristotle or even turn Aristotle on his head when he believed that the truths of revelation demanded such. I reference, for example, Thomas's discussion of the creatio ex nihilo and transubstantiation. To describe Aquinas as just an Aristotelian (as if that in itself is a totally bad thing) is a caricature. He drunk deeply from many theological and philosophical wells.

All great theologians work within and break apart the philosophies of their day. This was as true for St Gregory of Nyssa, as it was for St Thomas Aquinas. We are all limited by our worldviews. It is only later generations that are able to identify those points where a given theologian failed to adequately reconstruct his inherited philosophical presuppositions and concepts.

It has become popular, both in the East and West, to denigrate Aquinas and Bonaventure and the other great scholastics, who were first and foremost monks and deep men of prayer, formed by the liturgies, daily offices, and devotions of the communities to which they belonged. While I find myself unsympathetic, as a whole, to scholasticism, that may only be because I am not a deep and sophisticated thinker.

I daresay that Orthodoxy could benefit from a sympathetic and honest engagement with the works of Sts Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure. I daresay that St John Damascene and perhaps even St Maximos the Confessor would find them to be kindred spirits. They certainly would not dismiss them. And it might be remembered that the Eastern Church itself has a long scholastic tradition. I quote here the brilliant Antiochian Orthodox priest, biblical and patristics scholar, Fr Patrick Reardon:

What almost always passes for ‘Orthodox theology’ among English-speaking Orthodox these days is actually just a branch of the larger Orthodox picture. Indeed, it tends sometimes to be rather sectarian.

The Orthodox Church is an ancient castle, as it were, of which only two or three rooms have been much in use since about 1920. These two or three rooms were furnished by the Russian émigrés in Paris between the two World Wars. This furniture is heavily neo-Palamite and anti-Scholastic. It relies heavily on the Cappadocians, Maximus, and Gregory Palamas (who are good folks, or course). Anything that does not fit comfortably into that model is dismissed as “Western” and even non-Orthodox.

Consequently, one will look in vain in that theology for any significant contribution from the Alexandrians, chiefly Cyril, and that major Antiochian, Chrysostom. When these are quoted, it is usually some incidental point on which they can afford to be quoted.

Now I submit that any ‘Orthodox’ theology that has so little use for the two major figures from Antioch and Alexandria is giving something less than the whole picture.

Likewise, this popular neo-Palamite brand of Orthodoxy, though it quotes Damascene when it is convenient, never really engages Damascene’s manifestly ‘Scholastic’ approach to theology.

Much less does it have any use for the other early Scholastic theologians, such as Theodore the Studite and Euthymus Zygabenus. There is no recognition that Scholasticism was born in the East, not the West, and that only the rise of the Turk kept it from flourishing in the East.

There is also no explicit recognition that the defining pattern of Orthodox Christology was formulated in the West before Chalcedon. Pope Leo’s distinctions are already very clear in Augustine decades before Chalcedon. Yet, Orthodox treatises on the history of Christology regularly ignore Augustine.

Augustine tends to be classified as a ‘Scholastic,’ which he most certainly was not.

But Western and Scholastic are bad words with these folks.

In fact, however, Augustine and the Scholastics represent only other rooms in the larger castle.

For this reason I urge you, as you can, to read in the Orthodox sources that tend to get skipped in what currently passes for ‘Orthodoxy.’ For my part, I believe the Russian émigré theology from Paris, which seems profoundly reactionary and anti-Western, is an inadequate instrument for the evangelization of this country and the world. I say this while gladly recognizing my own debt to Russian émigré theology.


Unless a person has read deeply in the scholastics, which I have not, he should avoid offering judgments about their work. This would be a good practical rule to adopt. Orthodoxy does not need a "Western" whipping boy in order to be faithfully Orthodox, though I know that the whipping boy sure does come in handy when one is proselytizing and angaging in vigorous apologetical debate. Instead of creating scholastic straw men to knock down, either ignore them or read and understand them.

#5 Antonios

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 05:47 AM

Dear friends,

True theology is attaining the state of theoria, which consists in illumination and theosis. Theosis meaning to behold the uncreated Light and glory of God.

There are saints who are theologians and have reached such divine deification, and there are saints who have not. God in His infinite wisdom grants to each what He wills.

But there is one thing certain about Holy Orthodoxy and the hesychatic tradition from which she draws spiritual wisdom: While there may be many rooms in the house of God, there is only one bridal chamber.

In Christ,
Antonios

#6 Rick H.

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 12:08 PM

Theology can be critical, but it is never reactionary. When the reactionary state is reached credibility (viz. trustworthiness/expertise) declines.

#7 Owen Jones

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 01:06 PM

I am quite sure that Fr. Kimmel is right regarding the need for ORthodox to be more conversant with Thomas. Regarding Bonaventure, The Mind's Road to God seems to me as entirely consistent with Orthodoxy and he is often seen as a kind of alternative to Thomas. It is ordinarily Anselm that Orthodox love to hate.

On the other hand, might we also suggest, even expect, that more Thomists become familiar with St. Maximos?

#8 Owen Jones

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 01:16 PM

BTW, as a Nashotah House grad who became Orthodox instead of Roman Catholic, I would only add to my last post the thought that it is precisely the kinds of things we have been talking about in this topic that led me to Orthodoxy. The Roman Church was never a consideration for me, due in large part to the fact that for quite some time, Rome seems to have become dependent on intellectual certitude as its main bulwark.

#9 Owen Jones

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 01:23 PM

Regarding Father Patrick's comment on St. John Damascene, I am in no position to contradict Fr. Patrick's scholarship, but St. John, in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox faith, begins by stating emphatically that God is incomprehensible. That seems to be the starting point for any theologically grounded thought, but has sadly been discarded by most believers in the West, having been replaced by a doctrine of certitude. Further, it is significant that for St. John, asceticism is not some separate concern, or designed for some separate group of believers, but is absolutely essential and basic. It is the cause of theology, not some consequence of it. That it may be a lost teaching, even in most Orthodox parishes today, is another subject for discussion.

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 01:49 PM

A quick Google search shows that the above article is making the rounds on the blogs. It appears to have been part of or at least has been taken up as part of an ongoing discussion. When read alone there is thus perhaps a risk of misunderstanding the larger context of Fr Patrick's comments.

However a few comments seem in order:

The Paris School was at one time very influential. However this influence has been added to in recent decades by the neo-Byzantine theologians (eg Met Hierotheos Vlachos) and also those at work in the revived church in Russia. There are also now many individuals prayerfully interpreting the theological works of the Fathers who really are not part of any school; if anything their work is even more Patristic since it is not shaped by that which is reactive. Finally we also should not forget the many works of monastic and pious literature being translated from the original since in Orthodoxy there are in fact many streams which flow into the larger river of theology and influence it.

As for the Paris School itself: if suitable caution is kept in mind about the variety of those involved: then perhaps there is a sense in which there is a particular set of concerns and manner of expression which mark these individuals as a group. I would say though that the chief characteristic of this concern is that of authentic being as it was being discussed in the inter and post War environment. In a real way this preoccupation tends to colour to a great degree the theology whether dogmatic or liturgical of this whole group.


However this in itself is not problematic. Theology addresses and is expressed through the prism of the times. And it is doubtful that this group believed its own work to be exhaustive or exclusive. It is just of course that a certain amount of the theology of our time needs to be kept especially in balance because of the way in which it can at times be so reactive in character.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#11 Rick H.

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 02:12 PM

I would say though that the chief characteristic of this concern is that of authentic being as it was being discussed in the inter and post War environment. In a real way this preoccupation tends to colour to a great degree the theology whether dogmatic or liturgical of this whole group.



I have seen this phrase, "authentic being" used by different groups and individuals in different ways. I wonder if you could please let me know who is being referenced here, and some of the works of these that would make it clear how it is being used above (if not a short summary of how it is being used)?

Thank you.

#12 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 03:03 PM

Regarding Father Patrick's comment on St. John Damascene, I am in no position to contradict Fr. Patrick's scholarship, but St. John, in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox faith, begins by stating emphatically that God is incomprehensible. That seems to be the starting point for any theologically grounded thought, but has sadly been discarded by most believers in the West, having been replaced by a doctrine of certitude.


Owen, I need to challenge you directly on this. As a generalization about Catholic theology, this is simply wrong; it's a caricature. I do not deny that there have been Western theologians whom one might accurately describe as rationalistic, who might have believed that God was comprehensively comprehensible, but this is most certainly not true for most of the contemporary Catholic theologians with whom I am acquainted--Ratzinger, Balthasar, Rahner, de Lubac, Congar. Nor do I think it is true for most Catholic theologians of the past, including the scholastic par excellence, St Thomas Aquinas. As Fr Herbert McCabe explains:

Thomas Aquinas thought that theologians don't know what they are talking about. They try to talk about God, but Squinas was most insistent that they do not, and cannot know what God is. He was, I suppose, the most agnostic theologians in the Western Christian tradition--not agnostic in the sense of doubting whether God exists, but agnostic in the sense of being quite clear and certain that God is a mystery beyond any understanding we can now have.

He was sure that God is because he thought that there must be an answer to the deepest and most vertiginous question, 'Why is there anything instead of nothing at all?' But he was also sure that we do not know what that answer is. To say it is God who made the whole universe, and hoilds it continually in existence from moment to moment (as singers hold their songs in existence from moment to moment), is not to explain how the universe come to exist. Forwe do not know what we mean by 'God'. We use this word just as a convenient label for something we do not understand. For Aquinas, only God understands what God is. Aquinas thought that in the Bible God has promised us that one day he will give us a share in his self-understanding, but not yet. Until that day, although God has begun to reveal himself in his Word made flesh, we grasp his self-communication not by coming to know, but only by faith. Faith is an illumination that appears as darkness: we come to know that we do not know. (Herbert McCabe, Faith Within Reason, pp. 96-97)


Now I suppose we might debate whether McCabe reading of Thomas is accurate, but I lack the competence to engage in such a debate. I can say that many Thomas scholars would agree with him.

I have read a great deal of Western theology. Perhaps I have not read with great understanding--I know less everyday--but I have read a great deal. I have yet to encounter a Western theologian who would deny that God is infinite, ineffable, incomprehensible mystery. Perhaps I have led a protected life, but I think that my experience here is sufficient to refute your generalization about Western theology.

Neither the Western nor Eastern tradition is uniform, simple, and monolithic. Neither can easily be put into a pigeon-hole. We are, for both, talking about traditions that are 2,000 years old. Western theology is diverse, complex, conflicted, paradoxical, contradictory, rich and profound. Though scholasticism dominated Western theological reflection for 600 years, it is but one of many Western ways of doing theology, and it has been out of favor for decades. And to make matters even more interesting: the Catholic Church does not understand herself as essentially "Western." Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Cyril of Alexandria, and Ephrem the Syrian are considered just as much doctors of the Church as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux.

Cordially in Christ,
Fr K

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 04:36 PM

I keep thinking we are on the bread and wine thread...! With that said, my problem, so to speak, is not with scholasticism as such. It is a catch-all term that lacks specificity. Nor do I really have a problem with Aquinas per se. (I know, that sounds patronizing in the extreme). My problem is with the attempt to use theological language as if it applies to objects, which Aquinas clearly understood they do not. And a related problem which is the desire to over define, to engage in proofs, in order to guarantee certitude -- a problem which Aquinas has been criticized for, rightly or wrongly. If we were to engage in a truly fruitful exchange, we would also have to ask the question, "Are the Roman Catholics opposed to St. Maximos the Confessor?" But that's impossible because so few Roman Catholics are familiar with his work. According to my understanding, most of St. Maximos has yet to even be translated. If a concerted effort were made to make his works more accessible, and if there were far greater examination of his thought, then a lot of so-called theological problems would become non-problems.

#14 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 08:14 AM

'Orthodox Readings of Aquinas' (OUP, 2012) by Dr Marcus Plested (IOCS) seeks to 're-habilitate' Aquinas among the Orthodox, arguing that in earlier times Aquinas was respected by Orthodox theologians and that rejection of him is recent. I have not read this book, nor Aquinas, but there are extracts of Plested's book on Google books. I have to say that I feel uncomfortable with two passages on p 227:

"An Orthodoxy that refuses to have any truck with Aquinas is not only impoverished by that refusal but also untrue to itself."

"To disown this fruitful encounter [the long history of the Orthodox encounter with Aquinas] is to disown a hefty part of the tradition of Orthodox theology."

#15 Jeremy Troy

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 03:56 PM

Two old points that I want to briefly address:

1) Like St. John Damascene, Thomas Aquinas is also a deeply apophatic thinker. Cf. ST I.12.7, "It is written: 'O most mighty, great, and powerful, the Lord of hosts is Thy Name. Great in counsel, and incomprehensible in thought'. Therefore He cannot be comprehended. ... It is impossible for any created intellect to comprehend God; yet 'for the mind to attain to God in some degree is great beatitude,' as Augustine says." The impression that Thomas denies the apophatic approach to theology is perhaps given by his affirmation of the beatific vision-- the the created intellect can behold the essence of God-- but this impression is misplaced.

2) That Aristotle believed that the human person could participate in the divine can be seen from a synthesis of certain passages in Metaphysics esp. bk. 7 and the Nicomachean Ethics. The picture looks something like this: In the Met., God is pure thought, i.e. thought thinking itself, i.e. a pure act of self-reflection. As such, he is a nous that is formally self-identical in a way that other nouses aren't (since, For Aristotle, the mind becomes formally identical to whatever is the object of its thought). In the Ethics, we are told the highest human activity is theoria, i.e. abstract study and that this activity makes us like God. The idea, then, is that humans are capable of a reflective intellectual activity that can approach likeness to the pure self-reflection that is God.

Jeremy

#16 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 06:13 PM

I speak from a position of ignorance but as I apprehend, though Aquinas has more in common with Orthodox theology than might commonly be supposed, he does, nevertheless, argue strongly for Roman Catholic teachings which Orthodoxy does not accept. So, he argues, in 'Contra Errores Graecum' (Part II) in favour of the 'Filioque'. What might we surmise of God's Providence that Aquinas died before he got to Lyons?

#17 Lakis Papas

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Posted 14 January 2013 - 08:54 PM

From "Ecumenism practiced" By Rev. Ierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios http://www.oodegr.co...os/praktik1.htm :

"There are yet others, who maintained –fortunately in older times- that the Fathers of the Church chiefly pursued the Platonic philosophy (whereas the heretics were using the Aristotelian philosophy); that western scholasticism is the continuation –apparently- of the scholasticism of the Fathers of the Church, in other words, that it is a development and a surpassing of the scholastic tradition that the Orthodox Church –supposedly- possessed; that Thomas Aquinatus was supposedly influenced by the Fathers of the Church (this is upheld in a scientific study). The only difference being that he – Thomas Aquinatus – used Aristotelian philosophy by combining Aristotle with the neo-Platonist Augustine, thus composing (so they said) a “magnificent theological-philosophical system”, while the Fathers of the Church (so they said) were chiefly Platonic; that the theological “summa” by Thomas Aquinatus, which was his perfect theological system, had –supposedly- been influenced by the Fathers of the Church (and they actually specified them as Saint John the Damascene and Vasileios the Great) and that this theology of Thomas Aquinatus, as this theological “summa” is called, influenced other, pursuant Father of the Orthodox Church. These views are unacceptable from the orthodox standpoint, since patristic theology is a theology of experiences, and has nothing to do with the scholastic theology of the west, whose core is comprised of logic and ruminations.

It is my opinion that all of these aspects of western tradition that are being transferred into the theology of the Orthodox Church, constitute Ecumenism in theology."

#18 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 09:17 AM

I ought to say why I find the statements of Dr Plested which I quoted troubling. The only possible implication from them is that an Orthodox Christian’s spiritual life is attenuated by a conscious rejection of Aquinas.

Aquinas’ works are not a treatise on spirituality but are an attempt to combine scholasticism with reason (Jordan Aumann). It must not be thought that the Roman Church’s view of scholasticism has been diluted in more recent times: ‘in the Encyclical "Pascendi", prescribing remedies against Modernism, Pius X gives the first place to "Scholastic philosophy, especially as it was taught by Thomas Aquinas"; St. Thomas is still "The Angel of the Schools".’ (Catholic Encyclopedia.)

Aquinas is the leading theologian of a Christian denomination which makes claims for itself which Orthodox cannot accept (see http://www.antiochian.org/node/17076). The views of Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos have helpfully been mentioned; we could mention also the views of the Roman Catholic Church of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), Archimandrite Vasileos, St Justin Popovich, Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, and many others.

Aquinas holds an Augustinian view of original sin with the consequence that the Roman Catholic Church understanding of Christian anthropology and the treatment of the soul is different from the Orthodox understanding (a theme in the writings of Met.Hierotheos).

Aquinas is not Orthodox and, of course, not a saint of the Church. Obviously, his name cannot be mentioned in the intercessions (eg at matins) or in the dismissals.

In this forum’s thread 'St John of the Cross', (http://www.monachos....hn-of-the-Cross), posts #4 and #11 by two of the Fathers here made a point which is equally applicable in relation to Aquinas.

In the light of the foregoing, it cannot be right for an Orthodox theologian to say what Dr Plested says.

#19 Anna Stickles

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 01:55 PM

From "Ecumenism practiced" By Rev. Ierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios http://www.oodegr.co...os/praktik1.htm :

"


This article was good in touching on some of the important differences between Orthodox and western theology.

There is a reaction in our modern society against the damage done by nationalistic and sectarian conflicts of the last centuries. The following quote demonstrates some of the fallout that comes from this reaction.

Then there are other theologians, who strive to -and persist in- seeing common points of reference in every religious system, without detecting their differences. However, there may be common points of religious experience in every denomination; that doesn’t mean that they all express and formulate the same teaching and theology. If the different frameworks (in which that religious experience belongs) is not examined, it will mean that an Ecumenism is being experienced.


In an effort toward peace and concord, differences are ignored and similarities are emphasized. This is a response that exists within a worldview that sees these same differences of opinion etc. as the cause rather then a symptom in the conflict, schisms, and wars. It is practically unconcious in a lot of people. They do it without noticing.

This way of perceiving things itself has its roots in a western spirit that has become used to dealing with conflict in a reactive way. It reacts by trying to get rid of whatever cultural or ideological things are perceived as causing the moral problem we see. Thus as here the conflict between different national or religious groups (a moral problem certainly) is perceived as being caused by how these groups emphasized their differences as part of establishing their individual identity as nations/religions, so the proposed solution is to ignore the differences and see only the similarities, with the thought that in this way unity will be found. This misses the need for a struggle toward genuine Christian renewal as the real path towards peace.

One thing we have to beward of in a conversation of this kind though is that, we can't let "ecumenists" vs "non-ecumenists" become the next focal point for establishing our own identity and setting up how we ourselves are "not them" or they are "not us"

St Cyprian of Carthage in On the Unity of the Church, makes clear that the path to Christian unity is to always be returning to the Head. It is through struggle for more perfect participation in the common life of the Incarnate Word, which itself in substance is peace, oneness, harmony, etc. The ecumenical movement wants to replace a unity of substance with a unity of accidents, if you will allow for the phrase, as against a group that wants to assert/find their own identity in the differences. But a whole new moral/spiritual ground is what the Church really calls us to. It's one we are all familiar with in words, but oh how we constantly fall short in reality, and how many substitutes we seek to the slow and difficult work this entails.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 15 January 2013 - 02:20 PM.


#20 Ryan

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 03:19 PM

The relationship of Orthodoxy to Thomism, from my cursory reading on the topic, seems to have been a bit more complicated than a lot of the "anti-Western" polemics would suggest. Aquinas' system seems to have been fairly well-received by the Orthodox of the time. Even in his most combative anti-Latin period, St. Gennadios Scholarios was a big fan of Thomas Aquinas (and Aristotle- he fiercely argued against Plethon who asserted that Plato was superior).




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