Is Your Theology Historical?

Feast of St Joel the Prophet

Florovsky_Square_2.jpgTHE CONSCIOUSNESS of knowing must expand, embrace the fullness of the past, and, at the same time, the continuity of growth into the future. Theological consciousness must become historical. Only on account of its historicity can it possibly be catholic. Indifference for history always leads to a sectarian dryness, to a doctrinaire attitude. Historical sensitiveness is indispensable to the theologian, it is the necessary condition for being in the Church. Whoever is insensitive to history could hardly be a good Christian. Not by blind chance did the decline of ecclesial awareness during the Reformation coincide with a mystical blind spot with regard to history. It is true that the Protestants, in their polemic with Rome on papal innovations, were in fact the creators of “church history” as a particular discipline, and they contribute more than any others to this ecclesiastical science. Nevertheless the historical phenomenon as such had, in their eyes, lost its religious value and virtue; what they saw in history was merely the genesis of a decadence (it was their purpose to prove this), the object of their research being rather “primitive” Christianity, to wit, something which antecedes the history of the Church. Such is the very point of “modernism.” It implies a kind of unbelief toward history; it hails back to positivism and humanism; one begins by thinking that Christian truth cannot be established from history as a starting point, and that it can be affirmed only by “faith.” History knows only Jesus of Nazareth; faith alone confesses in Him the Christ. This historical skepticism is overcome in the Church through the catholicity of its experience, far beneath the surface, on which a humanist’s glance strays and skids. The Church recognizes and proclaims dogmatic events as facts of history. Theandry is such a fact, and not merely a postulate of the faith. In the Church, history must be for the theologian a perspective that is real. To do the task of a theologian in the Church is to work in the element of history. For “ecclesiality” is tradition. The theologian must discover history as a theanthropic process, a pass-over from time to the eternity of grace, the becoming and the building of the Body of Christ. Only in history is it possible to know this growth of the Mystical Body, to be convinced of the mystical reality of the Church, and to rid oneself from the temptation which consists in dehydrating Christianity in order to reduce it to an abstract Doctrine or a system of morals. Christianity is whole in history, it concerns history. It is not a revelation in history, but rather an appeal to history, to historical action and creation. Everything in the Church is dynamic, everything is in action and in motion since Pentecost until the Great Day. Now such a movement is not a movement away from the past. On the contrary, it is much more to be regarded as its continuous bearing of fruit. Tradition lives and quickens within creation. Accomplishment is the fundamental category of history. Theological endeavor is justified only within the perspective of history, in as much as it is a creative ecclesiastical datum.

—Fr Georges Florovsky, The Ways of Russian Theology

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