The Theological Task of Orthodoxy in the West


I am grateful to Dan Greeson for this excellent quote.

 Orthodoxy is summoned to witness. Now more than ever the Christian West stands before divergent prospects, a living question addressed also to the Orthodox world… The ‘old polemical theology’ has long ago lost its inner connection with any reality. Such theology was an academic discipline, and was always elaborated according to the same western ‘textbooks.’ A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new ‘polemical theology.’ But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now… The Orthodox theologian must also offer his own testimony to this world — a testimony arising from the inner memory of the Church — and resolve the question with his historical findings.” – Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology II, pp. 302-304


  1. Hi Father,
    Sorry to use your blog for “personal email” but my reply to your email this morning bounced for some reason. Let’s try again.

  2. Thank you for the rich quote. I have been lurking around your blog for some time, and am grateful for your own particular voice.

    What do you imagine a “historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy” to look like? Reading the words I immediately imagined a quasi-Hegelian project, an attempt to ascertain the necessary meaning of the march of history from its endpoint.

    I have a feeling that he means something more like applying the historical wisdom of Orthodoxy to the fumblings of the western church in an attempt to understand just what went wrong with the separated brethren–and then to repent with them. I appreciate that he is willing to undertake the project with an emphasis on the “brethren” rather than the separation.

    Go well,

  3. I think you correctly described it in you last paragraph. I think that Florovsky’s vision of the role between Orthodoxy and other Christians has yet to be undertaken, for various reasons. One reason may be that he was unfortunately unable to live to be 200. He was an almost irreplaceable figure in the theological scene.

  4. That is a large piece of thought to swallow.

    To what extent has this already been tried by philosophers who try to get to beyond/prior to modernity? Heidegger comes to mind, even though he was neither Christian nor Orthodox. I don’t think he was very sympathetic, ultimately to the West, to Plato, to any of the philosophers he critiqued.

    But that is the job of a great, professional philosopher: he must show how much smarter he is than the ones that came before. To be a great philosopher with heart would be a hard and difficult task. Lots of trudging and boredom, possibly.

  5. Reading Florovsky’s works (which are hard to get) is itself an education. I’m not certain how many people are actually equipped to do what he suggested. But I know of a number of young Orthodox philosophers who are working hard and doing good work. Who knows what they may accomplish for the good?

  6. What good a 200 year old theologian could do! He would certainly have a unique perspective on the function of tradition in the church…

    By “young Orthodox philosophers” are you referring to D. B. Hart? Who else?

  7. >>Reading Florovsky’s works (which are hard to get)<<

    Why is that?? It’s frustrating how quickly Orthodox books in English go out of print.

  8. His books got tangled up in copyright problems when the German company that had the copyright went out of business. As I understand it.

  9. “In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now…”

    When I saw this, my first thought was David B. Hart’s close reading of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo that appeared in Pro Ecclesia a few years back. Hart deftly liberates Anselm from liberal protestant distortions, resituating him among the Fathers of the Church. Fascinating rehabilitation, and even if you doubt the results, the essay is worth studying for the methodology and generosity of spirit. I believe the title was, “A Gift Exceeding Every Debt.”

  10. Father Bless!
    Thanks for the hat tip, let me say that I got this quote from Fr. John Schroedel of Orthodoxwiki, and I am led to believe he got that quote from a seminarian @ St. Tikhon’s by the name of Matthew Baker… but that could be tangled up…

  11. Kudos to St. Tikhon’s. I had seen the quote in Florovsky’s works (I confess to owning a complete set, an almost impossible feat today). But pulling to hand is something else. His work is deeply neglected and he pointed towards tasks that we have barely begun.

    We should organize an annual Florovsky conference.

  12. We most definitely should have a conference!
    A friend of mine, Brandon Gallaher, who is studying @ Oxford has informed me recently that he is helping put out a new book on Florovsky, so heads up!

    and i am deeply jealous of your Florovsky stash!!!!!!!!!

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