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Mind of the Orthodox ChurchBy Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

In the whole text of the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy” it is seen clearly that philosophy is condemned. Both the way in which philosophy refers to and presents God and the conclusions to which it comes are condemned. And of course, in speaking of philosophy, we mean metaphysics as it was developed by Plato, Aristotle and other, later philosophers. We shall see what kinds of heretical teachings are cast out and rejected.

Those are rejected which accept the impious dogmas of the Greeks, that is to say the idolatrous ones, which refer to the creation of the world and to human souls and mix them up with the teaching of the Church. Characteristically it is said: “To those who have promised to revere the Orthodox and Catholic Church, and instead disgracefully introduce the irreverent dogmas of the Greeks about men’s souls, and heaven, and earth, and the other created things, anathema.” It should be pointed out that those who accept the dogmas of the Greeks but present themselves as devout are anathematised. It seems that also at that time there were men who, among other things, feigned reverence and had fine manners but did not accept the dogmatic teaching of the Church.

Yet it is not these works of the philosophers that are anathematised, but the fact that the teachings of the philosophers are preferred to the Faith, and that philosophy is used to distort the truth of the Church. It is not forbidden to study the works of the ancient Greeks, that is, of the pagans, but those Christians are reproached who follow and accept their futile theories. Anathema is pronounced “on those who accept the Greek teachings, not on those who only cultivate them for culture, but on those who also follow these futile doctrines of theirs.” And as we said before, those are censured who prefer “the foolish so-called wisdom of the profane philosophers” to the orthodox teaching.

The “Synodikon of Orthodoxy” does not stay on a theoretical plane but also proceeds to concrete topics which it condemns. And, as will be discovered, it refers to basic teachings of philosophy, of so-called metaphysics. Among these is Plato’s teaching about ideas. According to this notion, there are the ideas, and the whole world is either a copy of these ideas or a fall from these ideas. According to Plato, man’s salvation lies in the return of his soul to the world of the ideas. In the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy” the holy Fathers condemn this view and those who accept “the Platonic ideas as true”.

The ancient philosophers believed that matter has no beginning and all created things are everlasting and without beginning, and indeed matter is as old as the Creator of the world. Those who accepted these things are condemned. Matter and the world were created by God and do not remain unchangeable.

But also on the subject of creation philosophy differs from theology. It is a basic teaching of the Fathers of the Church that the world was created out of nothing, “out of non-being”, out of “non-existent matter”. This teaching shakes all the foundations of philosophy. Philosophy believes, as we said, that matter is everlasting. So those who accept that “all things did not come into being from nonbeing” are condemned by the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy”.

Philosophy also differs on the subject of the soul, and therefore all who accept its views are condemned. The ancient philosophers believed in the pre-existence of the soul, in transmigrations and in the fact that the soul has an end, that at some time the soul will die. Such teachings have also entered into some theologians of the Church, and so they too are condemned. All are anathematised who accept “that souls have pre-existence” as well as all who accept “the transmigration of human souls, or even that they are destroyed by dumb animals, which are received into nonbeing”, and therefore they deny “resurrection, judgement, and the final reward for the conduct of their lives”. Likewise all those are condemned who assert that men will be raised with other bodies and will not be judged “with them according to how they conducted themselves in the present life”.

Correspondingly, also those are condemned who accept the belief of the philosophers that there will be a restoration of all things, that is to say, “that there is an end to hell or a restoration again of creation, and of human affairs”.

As there are even today, so there were then as well, men who considered the philosophers to be superior to the Fathers of the Church and therefore accepted their teachings. However, all are anathematised who teach that the philosophers, who were condemned by all the Ecumenical Councils, “are much greater, both here and in the judgement to come, than the holy Fathers, all who reject the teachings of the holy Fathers and the acts of the Ecumenical Councils, and all who do not take the teachings of the holy Fathers to be correct and try to “misinterpret them and turn them round” – all these are anathematised. For the holy Fathers are bearers of the Tradition, they are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We mentioned before that all the philosophers had a particular method which they distinguished from the methodology of the holy Fathers. The philosophers used logic and imagination to interpret these things, while the holy Fathers attained illumination of the nous and deification, and in this way received the Revelation. The erroneous method of the philosophers as well as those who use it are condemned by the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy”. By contrast, there is praise for pure faith and the simple and whole heart. Concretely, it says: ” To those who do not accept with a pure faith and a simple and whole heart that which concerns our Saviour and God and our pure Theotokos who gave birth to Him, and who do not accept the remarkable miracles of the other saints, but who, attempting by proofs and sophisticated words, to defame them as impossible or to misinterpret them according to how it seems to them, giving advice according to their own opinion, anathema”. When someone relies only on logic and imagination, he is on a wrong path. And if we observe carefully, we shall discover that all the heretics take this way. They try, through logic and imagination and by the use of philosophy, to analyse and understand all the doctrines of the Church. By contrast, the holy Fathers use a different method, which is called hesychasm, consisting of purification of the heart, illumination of the nous and deification.

In saying all these things we must again emphasise that the philosophers in their time made a great attempt to interpret some problems that they were trying to solve. But what we can observe is that they employed a different method and therefore fell wide of the mark. By the things said in the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy”, we are urged not to cease studying the writings of the philosophers and the ancient Greeks, but not to use their method, which consists of conjecture and the rule of logic, and not to accept their notions, because they corrupt the orthodox faith. The theories of ideas, of no beginning and of everlasting matter, of the eternity of the world, of the pre-existence of souls, of transmigration or reincarnation, of the creation of the world out of existent matter, of the restoration of all things, etc. disturb the teachings of the Church and discredit the Revelation.


Met Hierotheos_antiqued