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Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition

by Michael Pomazansky

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"Dogmas," according to Father Michael, are "...the definitions of truth declared by the Church" [31]. While the meaning of dogma between Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) Churches diverges in significance [cf.20,373-4: by Blessed Seraphim], Father Michael's definition of dogma would meet little resistance when compared with official ecclesial documents outside the Orthodox Church. I will explore divergence later in this review; my point at the start is only to state obvious comparisons.

For example, 'Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy' from the Second Vatican Council [cf. fn. 289; added to 3rd edition (2005)] altered the 'lingua franca' of the Liturgy, reversed the position of the priest, added the common cup as well as much more because of conciliar truth declared by the Roman Church. Moreover, Aquinas would have agreed with Father Michael's definition for dogma by his own use of "scientia," for dogmatic theology was the principal and primary science for Thomas. Father Michael does not identify such given the scope of the text.

Thanks to the author's and translator's literary economy and non-affected style, readers from any Christian tradition can experience encouragement in the book's invitations to draw closer to God. For example, the author's discussions about natural virtues, such as humility and continence [157,264-65], attract readers to cooperate with the Holy Trinity in cultivating the virtues as part of their own salvation in Christ.

However, Father Michael clarifies dogma "in situ" across 372 pages of text, which Blessed Seraphim translated from Russian. "In situ," as I use this Latin phrase, conveys Father Michael's goal for dogmatic theology in Orthodox tradition [cf. 46: specific 19th-C Russian citations]. His goal is to make clear statements about the teachings of the Apostles for contemporary readers [46-9]. It would be impossible to do more, such as "...develop more completely or go deeper into the truths of the faith than the Apostles" [47].

As dogmatic theology applies the faith to contemporary issues [48, 355-71], it reinforces collegiality among bishops who share responsibility to obey what has been handed down from the Apostles. Another way to speak of shared responsibility is to speak of dogma residing within the Orthodox Church and not independent from her [46,92-3,246-8,267-9,295-6]. Just as the Church lives, breathes and prays her dogma to remain "one body, one faith," active participation by all members in the Orthodox Church is the author's meaning of shared "consciousness" in the Church [236-7,294-6].

Having laid a foundation for dogma in the Church, Father Michael addresses important differences pertaining to (1) sources of truth and (2) assent to dogma between Christians, east and west, on the nature and practice of theology ("theologizing") and ecclesiology [234,303]. In particular, Father Michael's definition of dogma "in situ" presents an alternative and ancient understanding of practicing theology--"theologizing"--and the Church [427-50]. Therefore, non-Orthodox readers among Christians would benefit most by turning to chapters five and six, where Father Michael lays out the topics of evil, sin, and the salvation of the human race [150-228].

Thus, any dogmas that have been declared after the 11th-Century schism that separated the Patriarchal Sees of Constantinople and Rome [92] must be judged by criteria of "truth" as set before the Great Schism in the seven Ecumenical Councils. Revelation is the only source of truth [29-30], as Father Michael puts it, whereas "opinions" have been introduced as dogma in the west after the Great Schism [362-4].

After the Great Schism, Aquinas introduced an opinion concerning salvation that Father Michael addressed in a footnote to the first Russian edition published in 1911 [214]. He critiqued a passage from Thomas' 'Summa' (III, Q.49, art.4) in which Aquinas deduced that God had been "appeased" by the sacrifice of Christ. A dogma of appeasement had been a logical extension of Augustine's doctrine of sin, a point which Father Michael considered in chapter five [cf.165-6, and editor's fn. on 165 in 3rd ed.]. Therefore, Father Michael identified the origin of what he considered the "one-sided interpretation of Redemption" [214] of the "Latins."

I give the book four stars, and not five, for a couple of reasons. First, the text does not present a method of critical reasoning that even Orthodox theologians must employ when communicating ancient truths to contemporary people and situations. Second, the Brotherhood of St. Herman continues to publish the text and provide updates. However, the updates in footnotes need to be grouped by edition and collated as end-notes to prevent reader errors in interpreting the original. I hasten to add my thanks for Hieromonk Damascene's preface to the third edition (2005), because I discovered therein how to read the 2005 edition. It is critical that readers digest his preface as well as those of Blessed Seraphim, the translator, before jumping in. ( )
1 vote Basileios919 | Mar 20, 2010 |
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