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Are the Orthodox opposed to Thomas Aquinas?


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#21 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 05:21 PM

Not sure Plethon is the best or most correct authority on the subject!

#22 Ryan

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 06:34 PM

Rightly or wrongly, Plethon was certainly considered an authority on the classics by many of his contemporaries, Christian or otherwise.

#23 Lakis Papas

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 12:03 AM

The conflict between Plethon and St. Gennadios Scholarios was mainly political (something that is evident in their position at Council of Ferrara-Florence). It was expressed through conflicts in philosophical issues but it mostly concerned how each one addressed the issue of "saving the Empire", as Byzantium was collapsing - and indeed Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans while St. Gennadios Scholarios was still alive and Plethon had just died a year before.

However, at that time three people in the entire Byzantium were left with great classical education and very important philosophical intellect : Plethon, Visarion and St. Gennadios Scholarios.

Until 1444, St. Gennadios Scholarios was in favor of Vatican theological positions. But in 1444 he changed his position and aligned with the anti-Vatican position of St. Mark (Evgenikos). After 1445, Gennadios ceased to philosophy and was devoted to theology in defense of Orthodox Christian doctrine. Shortly before his death, St Mark from his deathbed, appointed Gennadios Scholarios as his successor to fight for the preservation of Orthodoxy against unionist seeking union with the papal church.

St. Gennadios published many works both of his own and many translations, anthologies and summaries of Western writers, especially the works of Thomas Aquinas regarding Aristotle. He published these books for teaching needs because he was the creator of an academia school - this is why he was called Scholarios (because he was a scholar). After 1445, he published a number of books (and letters) against Vatican theology on the issue of Procession of the Holy Ghost and on other theological differences defending Orthodoxy against Vatican.

St Gennadios as a scholar was indeed an admirer of Aquinas and devotee of Aristotle. He also used the western methodology of quaestiones disputatae in his works. St Gennadios, in order to defend Aristotle from the traditional Byzantine polemic (which was by far pro-platonic), made use of Aquinas' arguments and philosophy. Thus, he adopted the terminology of Aquinas. But finally he did not adopt his theology. He was charmed by the philosophical skills of Aquinas, but he made a note on the margin of one of his manuscripts: "I wish, magnificent Thomas, you were not in the West. So that you need not have to overcome the errors of that Church, namely, the procession of the Spirit and the difference between divine essence and energy. Then you'd be theologically infallible, as you are philosophically." (manuscript "summary of Summa Theologiae").

Mainly after 1445, St Gennadios wrote and published many works that are directly against western theology and doctrines. For doing this he used as masters of theology: Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria and others.

Edited by Lakis Papas, 16 January 2013 - 12:39 AM.
typo


#24 Anna Stickles

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 05:25 PM

Lakis, this is good to bring up. If one looks at the history of the Church, there are many issues where the Church took a long time to gradually define an Orthodox position, and recognize what was true to her own life, and what was not according to it.

In regards identifying the problems with western theology that work is still ongoing. Certainly Met. Hierotheos has gone beyond simply recogonizing that there is a difference in the doctrinal or ritualistic issues such as the filioque, and azymes that those at the time of the council of Florence were commenting on, to recognizing the deeper divergence of how there is a different method and effort involved in western and eastern theology. Orthodoxy has a different approach to, understanding of, and way of communicating truth, and also a different moral imperative behind its theology then the scholastics had.

In the west one sees the rational theology of those like Aquinas and Anselm, and the affective piety in some strains, and the apophatic theology of other streams of that tradition, but they tend to exists as extremes in isolation to each other. Aquinas may verbally admit of apophatic theology, but it has no place in the approach he uses in his Summa, The apophatic mystical trends also tended to exist in isolation in regards their practice. Many times these different streams saw themselves or defined themselves in contradiction to the other streams.

In Orthodoxy different approaches and tendencies do arise that have often gone to extremes, both in the theological debates of the early church, and in the desert tradition, but overall in the life of the Church one sees a constant correction and balancing going on, and as time goes on there arises more of a balanced synthesis.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 16 January 2013 - 05:40 PM.


#25 Owen Jones

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 02:56 PM

Back to the original question I think it is safe to say that Orthodoxy is not supportive of Aquinas or Thomism which is not to say that you should not read Aquinas or Aristotle, but not until you have mastered St. Maximos the Confessor! And back to my original post on the subject, one of the major problems is that Aquinas enshrines the Aristotelian distinction between the natural and the supernatural, which has lead to all kinds of philosophical and theological problems. I see no such distinction in Orthodoxy. For example, it leads to all kinds of quirky, ridiculous theories such as occasionalism. As far as the practical implications, in every case where you have some notably spiritual phenomenon, it requires God to have performed a miracle in that specific instance in order for the natural and the supernatural to be fused, so to speak. Fr. John Romanides has some very interesting commentary on this topic regarding Augustine.

In many ways, the problems associated with modern nihilistic theories are all, in some way or another, a reaction to the Western Roman claim to have objectivized philosophy and theology into apodictic statements. You can't blame Aquinas for all of that, and yet his Aristotelian naturalism certainly points in that direction. The best way to understand this problem is to look at the differences between Eastern and Western eucharistic theology, on which there are numerous discussions on Monachos. In Roman thought, you have to have naturalistic proofs of supernatural events that result in an objectivized, factualized Eucharist that exists quite apart from faith, belief, piety, holiness, etc. This is why the priest can say mass without any member of the faithful present, whereas in Orthodoxy he cannot. I hate to sound harsh toward the RC's in the matter but there really is a profound difference in our two perspectives regarding the Eucharist. Of course today it is hard to say what the Roman Catholic Eucharistic theology is since it has become so protestantized.

#26 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:20 PM

but not until you have mastered St. Maximos the Confessor


And St Gregory Palamas.

#27 Anna Stickles

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:35 PM

Owen, You are tending to sound almost Protestant here because the way you word things could be understood as if the change in the Gifts is dependent upon the faith of those participating in the service, which is not so. "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself."( II Tim. 2:13) But this should probably move to another thread since it is off topic in this one.

#28 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:59 PM

Anna, I don't think Owen is saying what you seem to think he is saying. There is a story I was told many years ago, I cannot find the source, but during the Soviet era, a priest who was secretly a Soviet spy was celebrating the Divine Liturgy. At the Consecration, he was heard to say something to the effect of "Not YOU again!" as the Holy Spirit descended and transformed the Gifts. He later became a true believer and, IIRC, became a martyr. So no, "faith" is not a prerequisite for the Holy Spirit to act, God does as He wills and I don't think Owen is saying any different.

That being said, if NOBODY is present, then there is no Presence (no Eucharist). But where TWO or more are gathered ... This is not Protestant, this is Orthodox.

#29 Owen Jones

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 03:10 AM

The problem comes when you begin treating ideas as if they have an objective existence of their own, and I would argue that Aquinas, whether intentional or not, contributes to that problem. It's a never ending problem but it particularly develops in the Western Catholic Church. But when your faith, your entire religion stands or falls on rational proofs of your theological ideas, you're in big trouble. Orthodoxy continues to understand that our theological dogmas are symbols of the faith, and are symbolic of revelatory/prophetic experiences.

#30 Lakis Papas

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 09:59 AM

In the second half of the Middle Ages something happened that is of great interest in philosophy/theology.

The influence of the Arabs began to be felt in Spain. Through the whole medieval period Arabs had rescued works of Aristotle. From 1200 onwards, Arabs wise men came in northern Italy, at the invitation of the rulers there. In this way, many of the works of Aristotle were translated into Latin from Greek and Arabic and they became known. And this, in turn, spawned a new interest in the study of nature and natural phenomena. Then, science scholars devised a framework to express opinions based mainly on Aristotelian methodology and doctrines.

The scholastic theologians felt that they had to adapt their own methodology in the same context. In scientific matters, nobody dared to ignore Aristotle. When, however, one had to listen to the "philosopher" and when to rely solely on the Bible?

This question was answered by great scholars like Aquinas, who had both classical and theological training and sharp mind. Using the scientific methodology of his time, Aquinas christianised Aristotle (just as Augustine had christianised Plato in the early Middle Ages).

Orthodox scholars of the same period, that shared the same classical education, adopted the Aristotelian philosophy and methodology as it was perfected and christianised by Aquinas. One of these scholars was St Gennadios. It seemed to them that the Aristotelian cosmology was convenient to connect with Christian cosmology, and more importantly that this was possible to be done in a scientific way by using the established Aristotelian scientific methodology.

This meeting of western scholars with eastern scholars on theological issues failed to bridge the gap between Latin and Orthodox churches mainly due to political developments and conflicts of interest.

#31 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 10:41 AM

The ways in which the Orthodox east and the Latin west became different are illustrated by religious art. The Orthodox world had a highly developed theology of iconography which it still has. In harness with the Latins' theological shift away from the Orthodox sense of the revelatory and mystical and towards naturalism and reason, we see Italian art doing the same. This is evident in the work of painters and sculptors who were Aquinas's contemporaries or who were a generation after. These include Nicolas and Giovanni Pisano, Cimabue, Cavallini, Andrea Pisano and, above all, Giotto.

As the Renaissance developed from these 13th century roots, the west's religious art lost the didactic and theological function which iconography so importantly has in Orthodoxy. The way in which and the extent to which western religious art lost its theological function is starkly evidenced by a comparison of the mosaics at Monreale cathedral with the frescos of the Scrovengi chapel.

#32 Owen Jones

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 02:57 PM

Anna,

Orthodoxy, to the extent I know anything about being an Orthodox Christian at all, is essentially an aesthetic. That is to say, it all rests on how we see things in the world, how we experience the world, and more specifically -- the capacity to see God, starting with seeing God in things. This is both a gift, and a developed capacity due to ascetic endeavor. Now, I have not had this same experience of theosis as the great ascetics, except to say that Orthodoxy opened my eyes to enable me to see things differently. So I am confident that my faith rests on more than just a blind faith in what the Fathers tell me that I am supposed to believe. My sense perception has been altered (we formally call this illumination) at least to a degree such that what they teach has a certain pathos attached to it.

So if I were to make the most important distinction between what developed theologically in the West vs. Orthodoxy, knowing God in the West became dependent not on theosis but on how we think about God and about things in the world He has created. Knowledge of God and created things comes from thinking about them. Consequently, more and more you have a dependence on rational arguments, proofs, and dependence on ideas as if they were created things in and of themselves. Not that reason and rationality are opposed to theosis. But in Orthodoxy, knowing God, to the extent that is possible, is the consequence of seeing God. So the essential distinctions in Orthodoxy are fundamentally different than the distinctions made over time in the West: the absolute distinction between created and Uncreated, and the distinction between essence and energies, both of which are foreign to the Western theological tradition post Schism (and probably before, which, in part, led to the schism). As an aside, while I agree with Lakis that there were major political reasons for the schism, the theological problems were already by that time very profound.

So whether we are talking about Eucharistic doctrine or any other doctrine, in Orthodoxy there is always an aesthetic dimension, whereas in the West there is this need to objectify everything. In Orthodoxy, we still understand that theological concepts do not refer to objects, but are symbolic of certain experiences gained by the great ascetics of our tradition, which we all have access to to some degree. With respect to the Eucharist, we shy away from making objective statements about it and let it remain a mystery, as well as a paradoxical reality. We don't try to resolve or overcome paradoxes in Orthodoxy, whereas there seems to be an almost fixation with doing so in Western theology. The paradox is that which you have identified. That it is both dependent upon and independent of human effort at one and the same time.

One needs to reject both the heresy of voluntarism -- that God is reduced to will, and that He wills whatever He wills whenever he wills it totally independent of human action -- which in turn leads to a kind of fatalism absent faith -- and on the other hand a kind of extreme pelagianism in which we are saving ourselves through our own effort. If we look at some of the strange ideas that developed in the West in Eucharistic doctrine it really illuminates the theological problems in general.

Now, I think it's problematic to try to go back and lay the blame on a particular person or a particular era or century. Romanides tends to blame everything on Augustine and his "Platonism" which I think is a stretch, although he makes some very profound points about how and why Augustine got it wrong and can trace that influence historically to the schism. And of course, Augustine is almost 800 years prior to Aquinas.

But let's take a specific look at Aquinas in a specific area (not being an Aquinas expert at all -- this is only second hand): specifically his proofs of the existence of God. This is a major cause of atheism as it develops in the West (philosophical atheism is imported from the West to the East. It does not, so far as I know, have any roots in the East.) In Orthodoxy, because we have the absolute distinction between created and Uncreated, we do not treat God as having existence -- only created things have existence -- so we do not need to prove His existence. God is formally treated as Beyond all things. That is what He is. Beyond. To put it starkly, God does not exist. Nor do we need certain Protestant formulations as a counter to RC scholastic formulations -- we do not ground the faith in personal subjectivity. Aesthetics is not to be equated with personal subjectivity. So the nihilism and atheism that we see developing historically arise out of an aesthetic crisis specifically in Western Christian societies in which, you might say, a lot of people woke up and said -- I just don't see it. I don't see God in things -- because the ascetic disciplines that lead to aesthetic knowledge have been suppressed in favor of a supposedly objective set of proofs.

I certainly stand corrected on any of the above...

#33 Ryan

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 04:31 PM

I think a more fruitful direction for this thread would be to bring material relating to how the Orthodox received Aquinas in his time and the couple centuries after. We know St. Gennadius admired him but perhaps there were some more critical responses as well. I know many Thomists today would protest vigorously against the charge that Aquinas reduced theology to an intellectual exercise or that he downplayed the importance of mystical experience. Not having read Aquinas myself yet (though I just downloaded the entire Summa for one dollar on my Kindle!) I can't really argue either way.

#34 Owen Jones

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Posted 18 January 2013 - 09:54 PM

Personally, I don't think you can simply reduce Thomas/Aristotle to an intellectual exercise. I can't imagine any serious Orthodox thinker simply dismissing Aquinas as such. And to do so would be to avoid some serious theological distinctions that need to be made between Orthodoxy and Thomas. The following is just a superficial listing: the problem of the distinction between natural and supernatural, especially natural revelation and special or supernatural revelation; the problem of proofs of the existence of God; the problem of relying on an Aristotelian understanding of substance; the problem of how we know, and the associated reliance on the analogia entis. Our Holy Spirit doctrine is, I would suggest, radically different. The fact that we aren't citing any contemporaneous or contemporary Orthodox thinkers to refute Thomas does not prove that Orthodoxy does not accept some of the most central teachings and methods of Aquinas, only that Orthodox saints have not seen the point in doing so. Perhaps it's time for somebody to work on that, but the point would not to have a point, counterpoint debate on paper with Thomas or Thomism but to better grasp the centrality of St. Maximos and his tradition. St. Maximos is, if you will forgive the anachronism, the Orthodox St. Thomas. The kinds of questions and issues vital to Thomas are really irrelevant in St. Maximos.

Edited by Owen Jones, 18 January 2013 - 10:49 PM.


#35 Father David Moser

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Posted 19 January 2013 - 05:06 AM

There is a story I was told many years ago, I cannot find the source, but during the Soviet era, a priest who was secretly a Soviet spy was celebrating the Divine Liturgy. At the Consecration, he was heard to say something to the effect of "Not YOU again!" as the Holy Spirit descended and transformed the Gifts. ...


That story is a novel by Lavr Divomilkoff called The Traitor. I have a Xerox copy of the book given me by a priest friend long ago. It is an interesting story in that the "agent" (Grigori) plays the part of the priest fully and to the best of his ability. He is a "good priest" because that's what his role as an undercover "mole" demands. Only by being a "good priest" will he eventually be able to become a bishop and thereby subvert the Church from its highest rank. (Of course by "acting the part" he is affected even without his awareness and in the end he betrays his soviet masters and embraces Christ.) Here is the relevant segment:

Three time, the priest invoked the Holy Ghost by virtue of the new covenant. After all, God was obliged to keep his word. He traced a cross over the paten; another over the chalice and then a third, for the two elements united. His gestures were slow and becomingly reverent.
It was done. The molicules of wine had become blood; those of the bread, flesh.
Grigori fell to his knees and prayed intently for the efficacy of the Eucharist. When he rose, he discovered without surprise that Christ was there, on the altar.
"Ah, so you've come."
It was not a gracious welcome, and it was spoken in an unpleasant tone, as though to say: Why didn't you stay where you were? We'd be much better off without you. But, since you're here, we'll have to make the best of it...



#36 Anna Stickles

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 07:28 PM

I think a more fruitful direction for this thread would be to bring material relating to how the Orthodox received Aquinas in his time and the couple centuries after. We know St. Gennadius admired him but perhaps there were some more critical responses as well. I know many Thomists today would protest vigorously against the charge that Aquinas reduced theology to an intellectual exercise or that he downplayed the importance of mystical experience. Not having read Aquinas myself yet (though I just downloaded the entire Summa for one dollar on my Kindle!) I can't really argue either way.


I am not sure looking at how Aquinas was received in his time and shortly after is really the way to go. One has to remember that under the Turkish oppression Orthodox education was reduced to nothing, and if Orthodox wanted to be educated they had to leave and go to Latin schools. There was a long time where there was much Latin influence in Orthodox theology. There was a reaction to this that was very anti-Latin in the 19th century. There is some amount of more balanced consideration I think going on now.

Just a couple of things to be aware of reading Aquinas though, he certainly cannot be looked at as the culmination of patristic theology as the orthowiki article claims. Someone really ought to take things in hand and edit that article. He was not an innovator either. He was summing up his own theological heritage. However, from my own research into this, one can see how the tradition he was living in had been changed. A lot of foreign elements started being added, various things from the past were lost. It can be seen somewhat in the Carolingian era, and continuing even more with the Gregorian reform. It was especially in the Gregorian reform that the changes that had been going on in the west started being actively made into a coherent tradition which is then promoted by the reformers and imposed on the culture.

Which is really the problem. Orthodox Christianity has always grown organically, but we see -starting with the Gregorian reform in the west - the type of liberal social and idealogical engineering that has become so common place today. Renewal did not come about as the result of a spiritual struggle such as one sees in the East (eg. Russia in the 14th (St. Sergius) and 18th-19th centuries, the Kollyvades movement on Athos) , rather a group of reformers starts shaping culture and tradition according to their own ideals.

Maybe a better person to compare Aquinas to would be St John of Damascus and his "Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith". Each was summing up a tradition, but what they were summing up was different traditions.

#37 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 07:50 PM

Leaving aside his firm conviction that heretics should be executed by the secular authorities, Aquinas argued in favour of the filioque and in other respects his writings cannot be considered Orthodox. In some respects his thought is similar to Orthodox thought - so what? I can only see the current fad for a sympathetic approach to Aquinas as syncretistic. Those Orthodox friends to whom I quoted the remarks of Dr Plested at post #14 were aghast at them.

#38 Ryan

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 11:43 PM

A critical sympathy for Aquinas or any other post-schism Latin writer is no more syncretistic than Sts. Nikodemus and Theophan's critical translations/ reworkings of Lorenzo Scupoli's work.

#39 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 11:50 PM

The difference is that St Theophan heavily edited and re-wrote Scupoli's work so that it was suitable for Orthodox use. Seeking to bring Aquinas into Orthodoxy is syncretistic. Aquinas was a heretic in a heretical denomination. Orthodox should not waste their time studying his writings. The fad for doing so is symptomatic of modernistic 'inclusiveness' and ecumenistic tendencies.

#40 Ryan

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 12:00 AM

The difference is that St Theophan heavily edited and re-wrote Scupoli's work so that it was suitable for Orthodox use.

What makes you think anyone wants to do anything differently with Aquinas?

Aquinas was a heretic in a heretical denomination. Orthodox should not waste their time studying his writings.


Plato, Aristotle, and Homer were pagans. Christians should not waste time studying their writings.




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