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A Realism of Glory: Lectures on Christology…

A Realism of Glory: Lectures on Christology in the Works of Protopresbyter…

by James L. Kelley

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James Kelley, "A Realism of Glory: Lectures On Christology in the Works of Protopresbyter John Romanides" (Rollingsford, NH: Orthodox Research Institute, 2009).

This volume is the first book-length treatment of Fr. John's writings that attempts a separate analysis of individual writings. The author does a great job of giving the reader a feel for Fr. John's idiosyncratic yet traditional presentation of Eastern Orthodox theology. Kelley at times even waxes Romanidean in copping the great Greek-American's oracular, from-the-pulpit style of theologizing. This is risky indeed, since Romanides is known for mixing practical ascetic principles with complex theological and historiographical arguments. Fr. John's writings left this reader's head spinning with my first read, but I knew something was there, something righteous and huge in scope! Romanides followers--and I know you are legion!--we now have two books that set a high bar for future Romanides studies: 1) Sopko's "Prophet of Roman Orthodoxy" and 2) this rough-and-ready primer from up-and-comer James L. Kelley.
  symeonmiddletn | Feb 24, 2010 |
James Kelley's "Realism of Glory" is an in-depth analysis of the first five years of Fr. John Romanides's theological output. As such, it serves as a nice introduction, not only to the writings of a great Orthdoox theologian, but also to the Eastern Orthodox Church in general. For Fr. John, as for the Orthodox tradition in all places and eras, worship and theology are inseparable. What's more, participation in the liturgy and the sacraments of the Church is viewed in the context of the purification of the heart through ascetical efforts. This is what Kelley means by "realism": Instead of focusing on concepts and words, the Fr. John and the Orthodox base everything on the actual changes that occur when one follows all the commandments of Christ and His Church. Obviously then, as the blurb on the back of the book indicates, "Orthodox hagiography has a single purpose: to point toward the specific therapeutic Way that leads to the realism of God's uncreated glory."

But why "glory"? Kelly points out that this word has been given a reductive interpretation in Western theology. Some biblical critics think that the "doxa" in the Bible means "opinion," or "good opinion." Fr. John Romanides and other Orthodox thinkers cited by Kelley show that the Orthodox have always viewed "glory" as the energies or love of God. The saints, through their very "real" and meta-physical following of the Christian path (which includes the sacraments and all the rest of Tradition), share in the glory of God, which transforms man in both soul and body into a glorified, deified body. Kelley's book is very useful in showing the organic connection in Orthodox theology between beliefs about ritual, saints, and "theology," the latter term here meaning Trinitarian theology and the accompanying teaching about the divine energies.

The only complaint I have about the first part of the book is its organization. It spends a chapter on each article written by Fr. John between 1955 and 1960, and spends several chapters on the book Ancestral Sin (a classic of twentieth century Orthodox theology). I wish Mr. Kelley had been more synthetic, like a traditional "thesis" driven work, instead of going piece by piece. Repititions could gave been avioded and connections between the articles could have been more readily established.

However, this criticism is perhaps trifling when one considers the many and varied virtues of Mr. Kelley's little volume. Kelley's style of writing, at first a bit off-putting, grows on the reader quickly, much like the prose of Fr. John Romanides himself! In fact, I must say that James Kelley's book is perhaps a step in the right direction for the new generation of Orthodox theologians. It is high time someone broke away from the merely academic approach that dominates the catalogs of the three big seminary presses here in the US. It is good to see that Mr. Kelley's book has appeared with "Orthodox Research Institute" printed on its spine, for this small press has quietly and soberly pumped out amazing volumes for years. After all, who published a great translation of Fr. John's Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics but ORI?

Another factor that offsets my criticism of the early chapters' organization is Realism of Glory's second section, entitled "The Nestorian Metaheresy." This self-contained theological essay ends the book with a bang. Kelley deftly guides us through centuries of patristic writing about Nestorianism and shows us that Fr. John's most amazing contribution to Orthodox theology is his position that Western theology has enough in common with the core ideas of Nestorianism that the dividing line is to be placed, not between the "legitimacy" of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, and a heretical Nestorianism. Rather, the line is between Orthodoxy and a Nestorian Protestantism and a Nestorian Roman Catholicism! Just so that one does not get the impression that Kelley is reveling in Fr. John's unequalled skill in polemics, let us note that Kelley dedicates a large part of the chapter to Fr. John's attempt to use his insights about the "Nestorian metaheresy" to forge a reunion of the Eastern Orthodox with the Oriental Orthodox.

Overall, this volume heralds the appearance on the theological scene of a new and unique Orthodox voice. We here in the West have already heard enough about John Zizioulas and his revisions of patristic terminology. It is time to dig into the heart of the neopatristic synthesis. For those who love Lossky, Florovsky, and Yannaras, this book is indispensible, for it not only stands on its own merits as a worthy summation of the achievements of a major theologian, but it also points toward a more Orthodox way of doing theology. The SVS's of the world should perk up their ears here. A changing of the publishing guard may be in order here. ( )
  MortGregory | Feb 15, 2010 |
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