Thursday, February 18, 2021

34 - Three Scorching Reviews in One: Fr. George Florovsky Reviews Three Introductory Books on Orthodox Christianity

KONRAD ONASCH, Einfiihrung in die Konfessionskunde der orthodoxen Kirchen. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1962. Pages 291, 24.

GEORGE H. DEMETRAKOPOULOS, Dictionary of Orthodox Theology: A Summary of the Beliefs, Practices, and History of the Eastern Orthodox Church. With an introduction by John E. Rexine. New York: Philosophical Library, 1964. Pages xv, 187.

ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN, The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy. Translated by Lydia W. Kesich. New York, Chicago, and San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963. Pages viii, 343.

All of these three books are intended for the ordinary reader seeking an introduction to a new and unfamiliar field. This is the most difficult kind of book to write. The exposition must be clear and well focused. One has to concentrate on the essentials and to delineate the distinctive features of the matter.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

33 - Book Review: "Nicholas Berdyaev: An Introduction to His Thought" by George Seaver

Nicholas Berdyaev: An Introduction to His Thought

Published by Harper & Bros., New York, 1951, 122 pages.

By George Seaver

Reviewed by Georges Florovsky
The Journal of Religion, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Apr., 1951), p. 152.
Mr. Seaver's enthusiasm for Berdyaev admirably qualified him for the task of interpreter. His presentation is vigorous and concise. He added but few comments of his own. Criticism did not belong to the scope of his work, nor had he probably much to say against Berdyaev, except on some minor points. "It was the mission of Berdyaev to rescue the religious consciousness of Christendom from this alienation of spirit from Spirit, by establishing the faith on the rock of personal experience and not on the sands of dogma" (p. 14). And this "mission" is traced back to the tradition of the Eastern church of Europe. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

32 - Book Review: "The Orthodox Church. Its Past and Its Role in the World Today" by John Meyendorff

The Orthodox Church. Its Past and Its Role in the World Today

Published by Pantheon Books, 1962, 244 pages.

By John Meyendorff
Translated from the French by John Chapi

Reviewed by Georges Florovsky
The Russian Review, Vol. 22, No. 3 (July, 1963), pp. 322-324.
This book was first published in French (Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1960) and was addressed to the French reader. The English translation is welcome. The book is well written, in a quiet and sober manner, with a competent knowledge of facts and a true grasp of problems. But to write a popular book is a difficult task and a most demanding art. It is impossible, indeed, to say much on a few pages, and for that reason it is imperative not only to say just the important things, but also to say all important things. Since the author is a Church historian by profession, it was quite natural that he chose the historical way of presentation. It is proper that he began his survey from the beginning, from Apostolic times. The basic emphasis of the Orthodox is precisely on the continuity with the Early Church. As brief as the survey inevitably is, it is fairly done. And yet, for the sake of that general reader for whom the book is primarily intended, one should voice certain cautions.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

31 - Book Review: "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church" by Vladimir Lossky

The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

Published by James Clark & Co., London, 1957, 252 pages.

By Vladimir Lossky

Reviewed by Georges Florovsky
The Journal of Religion, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Jul., 1958), pp. 207-208.

The author of this book died recently in Paris. One reads the book as a theological testament of the author. In fact, it is not a new book. It was first published in French in 1944 (Essai sur la thdologie mystique de l'eglise d'Orient [Paris: Aubier]) and at that time was reviewed and discussed. Yet it kept its urgency and freshness. It is a provocative and stimulating book. In a sense, it is an essay in what can be described as a "neo-patristic synthesis." The author expounds the thoughts of the Greek Fathers and wants to be faithful to their spirit, but he does it as a "modern man," who has passed through the school of modern philosophy and is well acquainted with the challenge of the "modern mind." He confines himself strictly to the Eastern tradition and probably exaggerates the tension between the East and the West even in the Patristic period. A "tension" there obviously existed, as there were "tensions" inside the "Eastern tradition" itself, e.g., between Alexandria and Antioch. But the author seems to assume that the tension between the East and the West, e.g., between the Trinitarian theology of the Cappadocians and that of Augustine, was of such a sharp and radical character as to exclude any kind of "reconciliation" and overarching synthesis. It would be more accurate to say that such a synthesis has never been accomplished or even has not been thoroughly attempted. Even if we admit, as we certainly must, that the Trinitarian theology of Augustine was not well known in the East, up to the late Middle Ages, Augustine's authority had never been seriously questioned in Byzantium even in the times of Patriarch Photius. It is therefore unsafe to exclude his contribution from the Patristic heritage of the "Undivided Church." One should be "ecumenical" rather than simply "oriental" in the field of Patristic studies. One has to take into account the whole wealth of the Patristic tradition and wrestle impartially with its intrinsic variety and tensions.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

30 - Book Review: "The Eastern Schism: A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches During the XIth and XIIth Centuries" by Steven Runciman

The Eastern Schism:
A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches During the XIth and XIIth Centuries

Published by Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1955, 190 pages.

By Steven Runciman

Reviewed by Georges Florovsky
Church History, Volume 26, Issue 2, June 1957, pp. 181-182.

The break between Byzantium and Rome was probably the major tragedy in the history of Christendom. It is inaccurate and misleading to speak of the Eastern Schism. The term suggests that there was "One Church," from which the East broke away, at a certain date, or rather was breaking away gradually and persistently. It is precisely what the West finally came to believe. It is natural that the East finally took the opposite view and came to believe that there was actually a "Western Schism." Strangely enough, both views are accurate and correct, from the historical point of view. What actually happened was the disruption of Unity, and both "separated" parts of Christendom are, in a certain sense, "schisms." In any case, it is so from the purely historical point of view. In spite of all tensions and divergences, conspicuous and provocative as they might have been, the Christian world in the XIth century was still "one world," and people both in the West and in the East, did firmly believe in this "unity." There was still "one universe of discourse," much as its scope and character might have been already obscured on both sides. Paradoxically, it was precisely this presupposition of "unity" that precipitated the "schism." The Western "Drang nach Osten," of which the Crusades were the most spectacular expression, was inspired precisely by this basic conviction that the "Christian World" was one, and consequently had to be "united" and "unified."