Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review Modern Orthodox Thinkers – From the Philokalia to the present

Book Review
Modern Orthodox Thinkers – From the Philokalia to the present.
Andrew Louth. £19.99. SPCK, 2015. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-281-07127-2.
Dimitris Salapatas

(Published in KOINONIA, The Journal of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, New Series, No. 66, Allsaintstide, pp. 47-49 and
https://www.academia.edu/18889331/Book_Review_Modern_Orthodox_Thinkers_From_the_Philokalia_to_the_present)

            Fr Andrew Louth has recently published his new book Modern Orthodox Thinkers – From the Philokalia to the present, published by SPCK. This book endeavours to give an introduction to the modern Orthodox theological discourse and its representatives, making it the ‘standard handbook on the ways of Orthodox theology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,’ as stated by Fr John Behr.
            This book is a revised version of a number of public lectures the author gave between 2012 and 2014 at the Amsterdam Centre for Eastern Orthodox Studies (ACEOT), following his previous book (Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, SPCK, 2013), which was also based on public lectures Fr Andrew gave in Amsterdam. However, his new book gives ‘a history of Orthodox thinkers, rather than a history of Orthodox thought, or theology,’ (p. xiii.) who were influenced in one way or another by the Philokalia, returning therefore Orthodox thinkers and thought to ‘a theology rooted in the Christian experience of prayer, and all that that entails by way of ascetic struggle and deepening insight – nourished by the Fathers (and Mothers) of the Church.’ (p. xiii.).


            Fr Andrew has endeavoured to give a catholic overview of the influence of the Philokalia from various Orthodox points of view; thus, he examines the influence this significant book has had for theologians in Russia, the Russian diaspora in the West, Greece and the West, observing how these representatives actually come in contact with each other, producing this new group under the name ‘Modern Orthodox Thinkers,’ including theologians such as Fr Sergeii Bulgakov, Niloai Berdyaev, Fr George Florovsky, Paul Evdokimov, Fr Alexander Schmemann, Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas), Christos Yannaras, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Olivier Clement, St Silouan and Fr Sophrony, concluding with Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, who has an unparalleled impact on the English-speaking Orthodox. This conclusion is significant, since Metropolitan Kallistos is closely connected to the Philokalia, ‘both by spearheading the translation of the Philokalia from Greek to English and by presenting in his own theological reflections what might well be called a ‘philokalic’ vision of theology.’ (p. xiv.). Interestingly enough, the author has chosen theologians from various backgrounds; not all of them are professors, giving examples of theologians who are bishops, priests, laymen, and also men and women. Furthermore, the fact that the author has personally met and spoken to many of the theologians examined in this book, is significant, bringing a further understanding of who they are and what theological interests they have.  
            For each theologian, examined in this book, the author gives a brief background history and then some theological topics, which characterise the works of the specific person. This is a very interesting approach, identifying each theologian with a certain key topic, adding to it a number of other issues examined by each one of them. However, we could argue that in some cases the author could have considered and examined other theological thoughts, which have made the theologians unique in their field. Personally, I would of liked it if for example in Fr Sergeii Bulgakov’s case, where the author examines the nature of theology, identifying him as a ‘liturgical theologian’ (p. 57) and then briefly looking into Sophiology, he could argue Bulgakov’s ideas on limited intercommunion, proposed during a conference of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius in the 1930s. I would think that this is a more revolutionary and exciting path to follow. Although not accepted, practically and theoretically by both the Anglicans and the Orthodox, it is an idea still discussed in ecumenical gatherings. Additionally, when looking at the examination of Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia and his theological vision of the Philokalia, it is interesting to see that Fr Andrew also explores the issue of personhood and the mystery of the human. Anthropology is currently the central theme of the Official Dialogue between Anglicans and Orthodox, in preparation for the fourth official statement. However, the author might have liked to examine a more exciting and thought provoking topic, i.e. women and the priesthood, whereby the Metropolitan has altered his initial view on this, questioning the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, promoting the idea of re-evaluating this topic within Orthodoxy. Despite the author referring to this crucial issue for modern theology, he does not try to examine it in depth. Nevertheless, this examination of additional topics could be seen as a future project, continuing the understanding of modern Orthodox theology.
This argument shows that perhaps a greater number of theological issues could have been examined for each theologian, in order to make it a more complete work; this would, however, be problematic, in respect to the great size of the book which would be produced. Nevertheless, it is a significant book, allowing for the initial examination of modern Orthodox thinkers, evidently showing and highlighting that noteworthy theologians exist in our epoch, permitting for the furtherance and blossoming of theology today, which strives to argue and find solutions to difficult and noteworthy questions. This book can be used as a serious and compact source of modern Orthodox theology, on a university level (also due to its fantastic further reading section) but also by those who are interested in current theological trends, not only in respects to the Orthodox world, but on a pan-Christian level.

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