"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Orthodox Constructions of the West: III

When we were last met together, we discussed several articles in this excellent and very important collection, Orthodox Constructions of the West. Let us continue to explore its riches, beginning with an article on Georges Florovsky written by Paul Gavrilyuk, author of a forthcoming book on Florovsky as I noted earlier. It seems obvious that many contributors to this outstanding volume wrote articles based on books that would soon be forthcoming. That was the case with Plested's chapter, as I noted briefly in Part II of this series.

Gavrilyuk notes many rich ironies in the life of Florovsky, whom I studied in some detail in a doctoral course devoted to his thought more than ten years ago now. Gavrilyuk begins by noting a rather unmistakable strain of anti-Western and anti-Catholic sentiment in Florovsky at least in the 1920s when he was playing with fantasies of "Eurasian" civilization, far removed from those wretched German idealists and romantics. And yet, as Gavrilyuk puts it in an unimprovable sentence rightly skewering Florovsky: "It is ironic that a Russian theologian, born in the southern Ukraine and residing in France, would come to Greece to deliver his first communication in German and his second communication in English in order to protest the 'Western captivity' of Orthodox theology"! Most of the rest of the chapter is spent showing how, pace his protestations to the contrary, Florovsky was in fact influenced by Western categories and theologians, especially those in France at the same time as he was who were involved in the Catholic ressourcement movement. Much is demonstrated proving that Florovsky was in fact himself something of an idealist and a romantic, and that for all his going on about the supposed universality of Christian "Hellenism," his arguments in its favor are sweeping, unbalanced, partial, and highly tendentious.

What, then, are we to make of Florovsky today and his method of a "neo-patristic synthesis"? Gavrilyuk notes that we have two ways of proceeding, and many, alas, seem to have taken the first way which consists of hatred of the West, intellectual obscurantism, bogus mysticism, a "misguided apocalypticism" and what he memorably and aptly calls "patristic fundamentalism." In place of this Gavrilyuk counsels that we see Florovsky's method as being simply one of intellectual engagement of a given culture in order ultimately to lead that culture to the gospel of Jesus Christ.


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