Fr Georges Florovsky: Do You Acknowledge the Masters of Old?

Feast of the Seven Holy Martyred Youths of Ephesus and St Cecelia the Martyr

Florovsky_Square_4.jpgIN THE EARLY church the preaching was emphatically theological. It was not a vain speculation. The New Testament itself is a theological book. Neglect of theology in the instruction given to laity in modern times is responsible both for the decay of personal religion and for that sense of frustration which dominates the modern man. What we need in Christendom “in a time such as this” is precisely a sound and existential theology. In fact, both clergy and the laity are hungry for theology. And because no theology is usually preached, they adopt some “strange ideologies” and combine them with the fragments of traditional beliefs. The whole appeal of the “rival gospels” in our days is that they offer some sort of pseudo theology, a system of pseudo dogmas. They are gladly accepted by those who cannot find any theology in the reduced Christianity of “modern” style. That existential alternative which many face in our days has been aptly formulated by an English theologian, “Dogma or . . . death.” The age of a-dogmatism and pragmatism has closed. And therefore the ministers of the church have to preach again the doctrines and dogmas—the Word of God.

The first task of the contemporary preacher is the “reconstruction of belief.” It is by no means an intellectual endeavor. Belief is just the map of the true world, and should not be mistaken for reality. Modern man has been too much concerned with his own ideas and convictions, his own attitudes and reactions. The modern crisis precipitated by humanism (an undeniable fact) has been brought about by the rediscovery of the real world, in which we do believe. The rediscovery of the church is the most decisive aspect of this new spiritual realism. Reality is no more screened from us by the wall of our own ideas. It is again accessible. It is again realized that the church is not just a company of believers, but the “Body of Christ.” This is a rediscovery of a new dimension, a rediscovery of the continuing presence of the divine Redeemer in the midst of this faithful flock. This discovery throws a new flood of light on the misery of our disintegrated existence in a world thoroughly secularized. It is already recognized by many that the true solution of all social problems lies somehow in the reconstruction of the church. “In a time such as this” one has to preach the “whole Christ,” Christ and the church – totus Christus, caput et corpus [the whole Christ, head and body], to use the famous phrase of St. Augustine. Possibly this preaching is still unusual, but it seems to be the only way to preach the Word of God efficiently in a period of doom like ours.

I have often a strange feeling. When I read the ancient classics of Christian theology, the fathers of the church, I find them more relevant to the troubles and problems of my own time than the production of modern theologians. The fathers were wrestling with existential problems, with those revelations of the eternal issues which were described and recorded in Holy Scripture. I would risk a suggestion that St. Athanasius and St. Augustine are much more up to date than many of our theological contemporaries. The reason is very simple: they were dealing with things and not with maps, they were concerned not so much with what man can believe as with what God had done for man. We have, “in a time such as this,” to enlarge our perspective, to acknowledge the masters of old, and to attempt for our own age an existential synthesis of Christian experience.

—Fr Georges Florovsky, The Lost Scriptural Mind

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