The above warning was given to me when I first met Orthodoxy in 1986. Today [2009] it is even more perilous, even more difficult to find the Royal Path. For one thing there is a far greater abundance of misinformation. And many materials are missing, and other materials are being rapidly rewritten. For another thing there are fewer than ever guides remaining on the Royal Path, especially who speak English. Hopefully this website will be a place where Newcomers to the Faith can keep at least one foot on solid ground, while they are "exploring."

blog owner: Joanna Higginbotham


jurisdiction: ROCA under Vladyka Agafangel

who did not submit to the RocorMP union in 2007


13 August 2010

Orthodox Dogmatic Theology

"Fr. Michel avoids the academic pitfall because he understands the whole of Orthodox theology so well that he can present it simply and clearly, and from just the right point of view (it's called the "Jordanville ideology" by its enemies, but it's just plain Orthodoxy, shorn of academic pretentions, down to earth.)"   
~ Fr. Seraphim Rose

Book Review
Before reading this book review, it is helpful to have these definitions of the presuppositions of the anti-Christian "spirit of this age":

pluralism - the sense of many different paths or truths competing for our attention, all equal in value
relativism - a consequence of pluralism, the sense that there is no absolute value or truth to any religion or path or truth-claims
evolutionism - the sense that everything is more advanced and thus, more true or valid today than in the past
individualism - the sense that the most important value or opinion or truth is our own; in effect, the individualistic values become an absolute criterion of truth: my path, my way, my lifestyle, my convictions, my religion
rationalism - the belief that truth is only certain in that which can be rationally demonstrated from observation, the sense that human thought is self-sufficient
humanism - the sense that human concerns, as understood from the perspective of individualism rooted in materialism, are the source and center of all value

Orthodox Dogmatic Theology:
A Concise Exposition
by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Translated by Fr. Seraphim Rose
St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina 1984

The late Seraphim Rose, a monk who was one of the most successful missionaries of genuine Orthodoxy ever to walk on American soil, was also somewhat of a prophet.  Accurately discerning the signs of the times, he foresaw and forewarned of the most tell-tale sign of the coming "end-times," a sign that is by now reaching near-epidemic proportions:  the "salt" of Christianity and Orthodoxy losing its savor [Matthew 5:13].  His oft-repeated phrase, "it is later than you think" was a warning to his spiritual children to prepare for the day when the Orthodox would neither have salt in" themselves nor "have peace with one another" [Mark 9:50].  He was greatly concerned with finding, preserving, and transmitting the true "savor" of Christianity -- which he identified with the Royal Path of Orthodox patristic doctrine and spirituality -- wherever it was to be found.  Perhaps Fr. Seraphim's most valuable legacy was his lifelong effort of translating and publishing the works of Christian authors, past and present, whose works contained the priceless salt of the earth, Traditional Orthodoxy -- without which all our merely human efforts, as salt without savor, are good for nothing, but to be cast out, and trodden underfoot of men [Matthew 5:13].

One such work, published for the first time in English by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, is Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition, by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky.  Fr, Michael is, in the words of Fr. Seraphim, "unique among contemporary Orthodox theologians."  Not only is he the oldest active Orthodox theologian, but he is one of the last who received his theological formation in pre-revolutionary Russia at the Kiev Theological Academy.  Fr. Michael's writing thus reflects the genuine "catholic consciousness" of Orthodox theology in the ancient tradition as it still existed in the Russia of the Optina Elders, and St. John of Kronstadt.  Fr. Seraphim saw him as a modern link with the living tradition of the Holy Fathers, as a tradition-minded Orthodox thinker almost without rival in the contemporary Orthodox world for depth, refinement, wholeness and balance of Orthodox thought, feeling, and world-view.

To read a single chapter at random, of Fr. Michael's book, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, is to confirm the rightness of Fr. Seraphim's opinion.  It is a treasure of a book, an Orthodox pearl of great price hidden in the thirsty field of contemporary modernist, ecumenist or traditionalist theological writings. It accomplishes what few, if any, expositions of dogmatic theology even attempt: to present the purity and fullness of the dogmatic teaching of the Church in a way that elicits awe and admiration for the radiance of the Church's "garment of truth, woven of the theology from above," and thus expands the breast with the warmth of the fire of the "great mystery of piety" which is the life in Christ of the Church.  Fr. Michael is able to accomplish this by the warmth, moderation and sober understatement of his style, by wonderfully appropriate and inspiring quotations from the Scriptures, the Fathers, and liturgical sources, but, most of all, by his manifest humility before the unchanging unity of faith and witness of the one Truth of the Church.

The original Russian version of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology has been used for many years as a textbook by Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, New York, where Fr. Michael lived and taught since its beginning in 1950.  But the text itself has a simplicity, harmony and wholeness not usually found in school text books, because it is written not for academic theologians, but primarily for pastors.  Fr. Michael takes a practical approach that is deeply rooted in the tradition of the Orthodox Church, presenting a theology that is in no particular way "Russian" or that of any other nation, but simply the certain unchanging teaching of the Church.  In the words of the author's preface, "The present book ... has for its subject what the Holy Apostles teach us in their epistles, what the great Fathers kept in its power and authenticity in their self-sacrificing ministry against various heretical attacks {St. Athanasius the Great, Basil the GReat, Gregory the Theologian, St. John Chrysostom], what the Church has preserved, guarded, defended and confesses unaltered in our day."

The author's introduction is a wonderfully succinct presentation of the sources of Christian doctrine: Dogmas, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Councils, Canons and the Divine Services.  Of special note is the section on "the Catholic Consciousness of the Church" in which Fr. Michael shows how and why the Fathers of the Church are truly reliable champions of the Church's catholic consciousness because their lives and works bear living proof of that conscious collaboration [synergy] with the Holy Spirit by which the dogmas, canons, decrees and statements of the words of the Fathers Orthodox Tradition become in the words of the Fathers a unanimous witness to the Truth.

The book is divided into two main sections: treating first of God in Himself, then of God manifest in the world.  In the first part, the chapter on the Dogma of the Holy Trinity is outstanding.  This all-important dogma is presented with exceptional clarity and simplicity.  With the help of appropriate quotes from Scripture and the Fathers, especially Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Irenaeus of Lyon and the incomparable Gregory the Theologian, Fr. Michael leads the believer to the insight that the dogma of the Holy Trinity is actually a great revelation which "exalts the Christian faith incomparably above any confession of simple monotheism."

In the second part, concerned with God manifest in the world, Fr. Michael begins with an exceptionally well-presented discussion of the essentials of Christian cosmology: the relation of God and Creation.  From the magnificent schema given in Genesis of the origin of the world, and from the "first principles" of the Christian Revelation, the two chief dogmas of the Holy Trinity and the God-Man Jesus Christ, the author shows how the Fathers drew out the fullness of the Church's teaching on the origin, meaning and purpose of created order.

An analysis of the cosmos is normally the domain of rationalist philosophy: both the pagan philosophies of Grecian culture and their neo-pagan descendants of modern times, the secular and scientific philosophers of the present day, deny that the faith of the Church can shed light on the meaning of the Universe.  But the Fathers, as Fr. Michael clearly reveals, are able to penetrate to the heart of the mystery of creation by the very catholicity of their thought, that is, by the fact that the faith of the Fathers freed them from the limitation of personal opinion and allowed the Light of the Holy Spirit to shine through their minds and teachings.  By citing numerous examples, Fr. Michael indicates how the corrective for an over-rationalistic view of theology is invariably to be found in the writings of the Fathers.

The heart of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology is the chapter "The Church of Christ."  It stands between the earlier chapters on the Providence of God, evil and sin, and salvation, and the later chapters on the Holy Mysteries  [Sacraments], prayer, and Christian eschatology -- the chapters on salvation and the Holy Mysteries meriting special praise for clarity, completeness and balance -- as a sun among its planets, the center and summation of them all.  In this chapter St. John of Kronstadt emerges as a true witness of the mysteries and reality of Holy Church, taking his place among the ancients as a "pillar" of the Church in modern times.  Fr. Michael begins with an exposition  of the images of the Church found in sacred Scripture: the Vine and its branches, the Shepherd and the flock, the Head and the body, a building under construction, a house or family, the Bridegroom and the Bride.  This is followed by a valuable discussion of the close bond between the Church of Christ on Earth and the Church of Saints in Heaven, and culminates in a superb presentation of the four essential attributes of the Church as found in the ninth article of the Symbol of Faith: oneness, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity.

Finally, the book includes three appendices which should prove a valuable aid to the general reader. One gives brief definitions of the major heresies that have attacked the Church throughout the centuries; another gives short biographies of all the Fathers and teachers of the Church mentioned in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology.  The third appendix, called "On the New Currents in Russian Philosophico-Theological Thought" contrary to the impression of a narrowly specialized side-issue of limited interest given by its title, is actually an important discussion on the right relation between philosophy and theology.  Using the philosophical system of V.S. Soloviev as a point of departure, Fr. Michael shows how only by means of the patristic theological world-view is it possible for a truly Orthodox Christian philosophy to emerge.  In the context of the all-pervasive world-view of modernity, which is based on a philosophy that is profoundly anti-Christian in every respect, and which tempts the Orthodox Christian at every turn to abandon or modify his Orthodox world-view,  the remarks of Fr. Michael in this appendix are especially pertinent.

Expositions of dogmatic theology are an indispensable part of the life of the Church.  At every epoch of the history of the Church, She has found it necessary to re-express the truths and realities of the Faith in order to transmit them without distortion to the people of that age.  As each epoch unfolds with its particular circumstances, and as Orthodox faith is a living reality in the life of each epoch, dogmatic expositions tend to devote special attention to those aspects of the pleroma of the Truth of the Church which need particular emphasis in that age.  Fr. Michael in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology is fully aware that the greatest crisis facing the Church in this time of world-wide apostasy is ecclesiological:  the very nature of the Church is at issue.  The greatest heresy facing the Church is the pre-eminentoly ecclesiological heresy -- ecumenism.  Ecumenism stands of falls on one's understanding of the nature of the Church.  Only Orthodoxy safeguards the true understanding of the nature of the Church in Her oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity.  To suppress  or alter any of these essential attributes of the Church is to depart from Orthodoxy, to lose the Church entirely.  Ecumenism denies precisely the catholicity of the Church.  And thus, the reality of the Church in "ecumenical Christianity" becomes an empty concept, devoid also of unity, holiness, and apostolicity.

What makes a truly indispensable book for the Orthodox Christian of today is precisely that it devotes special attention to the catholicity of the Church:  Her catholic consciousness, the inseparable bond between the Church on earth and the Heavenly Church, Her authentic pleroma -fullness- of Truth.

In the mind [phronema] of the Fathers, catholicity is not merely a synonym for "universal."  It does not mean the "whole" Church as opposed to a "part" in the quantitative sense.  Nor does it refer to the worldwide extension of the ecclesiastical organization, as the Roman Catholics tend to believe.  Neither does it mean the "universalism" of the Christian message, because a religion like Buddhism or Islam could also be said to possess a universal message, and thus be considered "catholic."  Catholicity, in the mind of the Fathers, is not an abstract universalism, but a concrete and unique quality of the Church's possession of the Truth.  Catholicity is the fullness of Truth, which lives in the Chuuch as the fullness of Him that filleth all in all [Eph.1:23], transmitted through the Church as the living tradition always preserved everywhere and by all [St. Vincent of Lerins].  Thus the Church's Being and Truth are not limited by place or time or circumstances or by any other category of created existence.

The greater part of what is called Christianity has lost, forgotten or denied the Church in her catholicity.  It is the catholicity of the Church that the wold-view of modernity decisively rejects.  It may be hard for the ordinary rthodox Christian to realize just how far the contemporary Roman Catholic and Protestant churches have deviated from the true catholicity of the Church under the relativizing, pluralizing influences of modernity.  For example, the most important and representative Roman Catholic theologian of the present generation is probably Bernard J. Lonergan, S.J.  Beginning initially from a Thomistic position, but gradually  succumbing to modernist presuppositions, he has subjected Roman Catholic theology to a critique more thoroughgoing and relentless than any contemporary Orthodox "theologian" has ever attempted in order to purge theology of what he saw as the limitations of "naive realism," "classicism" and "outdated" methods.  As a result, although on some points he draws close to Orthodox positions in an abstract way, he ends up completely accepting the horizon of the modern world-view, empties theology of the catholic consciousness of the Church, and reduces theology to what is called a "transcendental" method, i.e., a method of "scientific" inquiry that can be used regardless of subject matter.  He even goes so far as to say that the dogmatic theologian is obsolete.  Lonergan separates theology from the Church, and when one does that, one has neither theology nor the Church.  This is the state of affairs towards which Roman Catholicism is tending today.

From such an example, an Orthodox reader might gain a greater appreciation for the value of Fr. Michael Pomazansky's Orthodox Dogmatic Theology .  Here is a book full of what Fr. Seraphim Rose called the authentic "savor" of truly a modern link with the Holy Fathers. In his book we may clearly come in contact with the genuine Orthodox theology and the fullness of the wealth of the teaching of the Church.  Reading it, one not only learns the dogmatic essentials, one is also inspired, warmed by the divine fire of faith and piety, and lifted up toward a vision of our heavenly homeland. This book is written in the spirit and tone of St. Gregory the New Theologian, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and St. John of Kronstadt.  In a time when even the greater part of the Orthodox world is succumbing to the sway of modernity, this book is not just indispensable.  It is a gift of grace.  It deserves the widest possible distribution.
--Vincent Rossi
#126 Jan-Feb 1986

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