“Dogma and theology are medicines. When we become well, we stop taking medicines. We take medicines when we are ill. Man is ill because he is not in a position to see God. He is not ready, because he does not have love. The fact that he does not have love means that he is ill.” —Protopresbyter John S. Romanides
Anyone reading the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils realises that the terminology is determined, and sometimes changes, according to the polemics of the heretics, in order to deal with the heresies. This is not a matter of development in the understanding of dogma, but of development in the way it is formulated.
“There is no development in the understanding of dogma. No development in the understanding of dogma is possible. Dogma can never be understood, because dogma is not subject to man’s reason, but is lived by the experience of glorification. Then dogma is changed into experience. It becomes experience, it becomes divine vision. Dogma is what can be put into words.”
Some people mistakenly assert that the Church, as time passes, penetrates more deeply into the dogmas and understands them better. This is incorrect.
“The ancient terminology of the Church is not very clear. Caution is needed. By studying this terminology, Westerners have reached the conclusion that the early Christians, if not Arians, were at least semi-Arians.
They believe that, as time goes by, the Church reflects more deeply on its doctrine and improves its understanding of dogmas. But they have not paid due attention to what Gregory the Theologian says: ‘It is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him.’ As far as Westerners are concerned, we have a better conception and better expression. So with the passage of time, the Church understands its dogmas more profoundly and expresses them with extreme clarity.
If you take the proposals of the Second Vatican Council you will see that they follow this line. On every page you will find this view, that in the course of time the Church has a better understanding. Whereas St Gregory the Theologian tells us that, however perfect someone may be, ‘It is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him.’ Although they talk about ‘deeper understanding’, we can neither understand nor express God.”
In Orthodox theology we cannot speak about perfecting the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
“A theologian in Athens talks about perfecting the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He makes it known in Europe, where he frequently travels, that the Fathers have not yet completed the teaching on the Holy Spirit, and now we are going to complete it.
It seems that the man is about to reach glorification, and from his glorified state he is going to perfect dogma as well. He spreads the word, and they quote him – I have seen Protestant textbooks – that the teaching about the Holy Spirit has not yet been rounded off, and now we are going to complete it… When I saw it, I burst out laughing.
There are two Greeks who say that. Also a Russian and a French convert. It is the new heretical teaching about the Holy Spirit. From there they will conclude that the Fathers, who did not complete the dogma, were also mistaken.”
There is an academic discipline concerned with dogmas, which studies their formulation, their history, and what preceded and followed them. It is called the history of dogmas.
Westerners study dogmas and cannot understand about the terminology of dogmas down through the ages. The history of dogmas, therefore, studies the development of the terminology of dogmas.
“This raises the whole subject of the history of dogmas, which basically is a matter of the history of the terminology of dogmas, because new terminologies are added in the history of theology, and sometimes the initial meaning of a terminology changes. There are some words used in the 4th century, which, when they were used in the 1st and 2nd century, did not have the same meaning in theology.
Western theologians do not understand that the meaning of the terminology does not change, but the use of the terminology changes. For the Westerners, a new meaning is added. This led the Western historians after the Reformation to accept that there are serious developments in theology, that the theology of the 1st century is not the same as the theology of the 2nd century. In other words, that theology changes continuously and is transformed.
Between the Papal Christians and the Protestants there have been very major conflicts on this subject. On account of this conflict many people have taken an interest in reading the Fathers on basic dogmas, and we see the beginning of the history of dogmas, the study of patristic texts, because of the polemics of Protestants and Papal Christians.”
There are various textbooks on dogmatics by contemporary theologians which apparently do not use the patristic method of interpreting dogmas. These books do not correctly interpret the purpose of dogmas.
“Take any reference books on dogmatics written in the past by Russian, Greek or Romanian theologians, and you will see that their way of theologising is different from the Fathers’. It is doubtful whether anyone reading these dogmatic textbooks would ever attain to glorification. Or even to illumination.
So this contradiction between the practice of the saints and the theology of the theoreticians with regard to the study of dogmatics is not just a problem in the West, but also a problem in the East.”
Because non-Orthodox historians of dogma are imbued with this Western interpretation of dogmas, they have a serious problem concerning faith and knowledge. However, even Orthodox theologians who have been influenced by Western theology speak about faith and knowledge.
“These views on the development of understanding of the truth clearly exist in the Orthodox Church. If you read non-Orthodox historians of dogma, you will see that they present the Fathers as men who have the faith of the Church and are trying to elevate this faith of the Church to the level of knowledge.
I do not like speaking about people who are still alive, so I shall not name names, but even some professors of mine, here in Greece, say this. Faith and knowledge. Faith and knowledge according to so-and-so. Everyone is accustomed to writing about faith and knowledge according to the Fathers of the Church. Some were in favour of faith alone, others wanted to change faith into knowledge.
Tertullian was one who did not want us to defile the faith, and he attacked philosophy. Others were in favour of philosophy, and wanted to turn faith into knowledge. Some were illiterate, others educated, and so on. These are caricatures of the patristic tradition, and I am amazed that anyone can treat such serious matters in this childish way. I cannot understand it.”
When the Fathers of the Church formulated dogmas, they did not go more deeply into the faith, but articulated the revelatory experience in dogmatic statements in order to safeguard it. There is no development in the faith, which was revealed once and for all, but there is development in the use of terminology.
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos