What is a theologian?
There are a lot of definitions out there, mostly like “person thinking about God” or “someone who studies the nature of God, religion, and religious beliefs” and the like. This is a profoundly NON-Christian view of theology, and I will come back to it later (in a future vignette)
Imagine you are one of those modern wannabe “theologians” and you think about God and religion a lot. Now let’s make a thought experiment. You, as a budding “theologian” can chose any one of these topics to write a book on:
- A discussion of angels based on the writings of Saint Dionysios
- A history of the Antiochian Church in the 8th century
- A biography of Christ’s newfound (you did) sister (!!!)
Which one would you pick? Option A requires a lot of brainpower, time and study of the Church Fathers (to ascertain what the consensus patrum on this topic is). Besides, angels are a myth, right? Invented to make little children happy, but nobody believes in them or cares anyway, so why bother? Angels are like “Easter” eggs and bunnies – simply myths for simple people: in our times of “enlightened” positivism discussing angels is only acceptable in a joke or in a metaphor (how many fit on a pin?). So not option A.
Option B is probably fine, but nobody cares (or even knows!) about Antioch, so why bother? In both case A and case B you will sell a few books here, maybe for libraries, and there and it will all be quickly forgotten. So option B is no good for anybody wanting to be noticed or in any way “original”.
Simply put, modern “theologians” are like journos – they have to chose between speaking truthfully and going bankrupt or lying (aka “presenting an original thesis”) and sells lots of books. What do you think most of them chose?
Now compare that with option C! Here is the full title of the book “Christ’s forgotten sister – the full truth about Christ’s hidden sister!!!!!“. Woah! That might be utter nonsense (it is, of course!), but it is hard to prove a negative and, besides, nonsense or not, that will sell! That, for sure, is “original”, no?
First, all the anti-religious folks will love it just because it contradicts the Scripture and Fathers. Second, while some will call your thesis utterly stupid, most reviewers will call you “daring” and “original” and commend you for your “courage” to take on “the Church”. Do you also see the proceeds of that book suddenly rising far higher than in any of the other two options?
Next, if Christ had a sister, it begs the question of who the father of that sister? Was it also God? Or maybe Saint Joseph? Or even somebody else? I would not put it past modern theologians to suggest that Christ’s sister probably had descendants. If not, maybe she was “gay” (modernspeak for homosexual)? And maybe she rejected Christ and sided with the Pharisees?
Now ain’t that really “cool” topics, maybe for a good summer read on the beach or by a swimming pool?
Do you see all the possibilities?!
One more “advantage” of the option C: to propose it you do NOT need to know anything about Church history, you do NOT need to have read Patristics and you even do NOT need even a cursory familiarity with the New Testament. In other words, zero effort and very nice return on investment ($$$).
Does that happen in reality?
Yes, sure, I will two perfect which are mind blowing in their stupidity AND popularity.
Example one – “Paulism” or how Saint Paul “created modern Christianity“. It goes something like that: Christ was a peaceful, kind-hearted quasi-hippie who loved everybody and everything. Then came the nasty “Paul” (these folks will not use proper the “Saint Paul” expression) who brought a ton of nasty and intolerant restrictions, “Paul” was either a “notorious homophobe” or, coming from the same corner, a crypto-gay in love for Saint Peter (to those offended, I apologize, but modern homos do really spew that kind of toxic nonsense I have seen that one very often in the past)) organized what was originally in informal hippie commune -type of society and replaced it with modern Christianity aka “organized religion”!
The sheer mendacious audacity of that thesis always blows my mind!
Let’s use only our common sense next. Here is what we know for a fact:
- Saint Paul used to be a vicious persecutor of the Church until his conversion on the road to Damascus
- Some Christians initially feared and distrusted Saint Paul
- Saint Paul never meet Christ face to face, he only had a vision on the road to Damascus
- Saint Paul was surrounded by all the other Apostles all if which new Christ personally and all of whom were martyred with the sole exception of Saint John. In other words, they really cared about Christ’s truth!
Now just use your common sense.
You are part of a group of people willing to die for their beliefs and for their Master whom you and the rest of the group personally know really well. In fact, 4 members of your group even put down in writing their full testimony. Now a former persecutor whom you used to really fear suddenly shows up and declares himself converted and wants to join.
Would you let him? Most of us would never. But then, the Apostles were real saints and they accepted him with an open and loving heart!
Okay, but we can assume that Saint Paul was sill under A LOT of scrutiny (even saints are “only human” and, besides, we are all weak sinners anyway) not only at the moment of formal admission, but even later.
But if that is true, how could this “relative newcomer” suddenly start preaching a radically different kind of message than the one taught to all by Christ Himself? Saint Paul he also wrote a lot of letters which gradually perverts what the real Christianity, at least so say the adherents to the “Paulinian Christianity” sect.
Let me repeat, the “Paulinians” are claiming that Saint Paul perverted teachings which all Christians had access to, which all Christians knew (mostly by heart at that time!) and all Christians agreed upon. These early Christians were taught by personally by Christ Himself, and they were more than willing to die for these teachings!
Last, but not least, some early Christians, (including Saint Peter himself) openly polemicized with some of what that newcomer said!
And, suddenly, voila, in spite of it all, the newcomer somehow mysteriously conned everybody and created the “Pauline religion”. How that would have been possible in the first place is never specified or even asked. Hey, if the thesis is “daring” who cares about boring stuff like facts or logic?
Seriously, how utterly stupid and lacking basic common sense must one be to buy that self-evidence idiocy?!
Oh, but it gets better! After all the original Apostles (12+70) were all gone, their successors, the bishops and presbyters and laity all get together and (among other issues) decide which books should or should not be part of the Church-approved list of books to be included in the official New (and even Old!) Testaments.
NOTE: If you are not aware of this, please stop reading and immediately read this before continuing:
Anyway, these multitudes of early Christians got together and decided to… …include a lot of Saint Paul’s letters into the New Testament (originally be reading Saint Paul’s letters, recognized as authoritative, in official assemblies and religious ceremonies). That is a historical fact.
So the evil “Paul” must have conned them all, including “lightweights” as Saint John the Evangelist and Theologian and even The Virgin Mary!
Right? Wrong, of course, and self-evidently absurd!
So, here is what we can conclude about this canard:
- The early Christians would NEVER have allowed anybody, nevermind a former persecutor of the Church, to pervert a message which they all heard directly from Christ Himself.
- If Saint Paul had deviated only by one iota (the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet, literally!) from Christ’s message, he would have been immediately condemned just like the heretics who tried to replace a letter “o” by a letter “i” to the word “consubstantiatial” (homoousios) and turn it into “of a similar/like substance” (homoiousios). No need for us to get further bogged down on this telling, but complex, example.
- For centuries since, council after council, saint after saint, have not only reaffirmed every word written by Saint Paul (truly a giant of Christianity) but the absolute best Christians theologians in history based their writings on Saint Paul and later, on each other. They include: Saint Dionysios the Areopagite (who knew Saint Paul and the Virgin Mary personally, and lived in the 1st century, modern “theologians” often deny his existence and/or the authorship of his writings), Saint Maximos the Confessor (7th century), Saint Photios the Great (9th century) and Saint Gregory Palamas (14th century).
[Sidebar: please remember those five names and roughly when they lived as these saints are the “nec plus ultra” of Christian dogmatic theologian-saints. I also consider them the among the most important philosophers in history. Any discussion of early, true, original Christianity which does not at least mention them is extremely hard for me to imagine. The problem is that they are also not easy to read, to put it mildly. Hence why Saint John Chrysostomos or Saint Basil the Great are more typically recommended for beginners. And, of course, these saints all said/wrote the “same stuff”, just expressed differently. But, with this caveat in mind, please keep those “Big Five” (incl. Saint Paul, of course!) in mind as I will very often either quote or refer to them]
Rhetorical question: what do we call a wannabe “Christian” “theologian” who sincerely believes that he/she knows more, and understand the original Christianity better, than Saint Paul, Saint Dionysios, Saint Maximos, Saint Photios and Saint Gregory?
I personally would be quick to call such a person a ignorant and delusional fool. But that’s the usual sinful me speaking. The technical term for the state these people are in is known in Greek as “plani” and in Slavonic “prelest’” and roughly translates to “spiritual delusion” (“a wounding of human nature by falsehood” according to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov).
Furthermore, not only because “The Big Five” and many thousands other saints know better, but also because even a small dose of common sense allows me to reject that thesis prima facie.
If after reading the above you still believe in the “Pauline myth” please contact me ASAP, I have several beautiful bridges to sell you, and at a great price too (say $10k only a pop)!
Now let’s deal with the second canard:
Example two – How “Christ brought us love, not an organized religion!“.
Let’s begin with a small reminder. First, in the Heavens, God created angels and arranged them hierarchically. (we know that from many sources, including Saint Dionysios’ text on “The Celestial Hierarchy“. Then God also gave a single command to Adam and Eve, which presupposes that He saw Himself as hierarchically superior to them both. So far so good? Then God gave commandments (not suggestions!) to His chosen people who then organized in several ways (prophets, kinds and judges)!
Then, following His Incarnation into the flesh, Christ created a core managerial/officer group he called “Apostles” and then He organized another 70 aides/NCOs to assist them.
This all sure looks very well hierarchical and even organized to me!!!
Next, Christ’s Apostles organized the first (Apostolic) Council in which they reaffirmed their infallible authority (“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us” Acts 15:28). Next, they proceeded to organize what we now call dioceses, run by a bishop aided by presbyters (both of them are priests, of course). In other words, the Apostles were very much “into organized religion”, unlike our modern wannabe “theologians”.
But this goes even much deeper. Christianity has dogmas. Let me explain.
You can think of dogmas as established beliefs or doctrines which are authoritative and cannot not to be disputed or doubted by any person calling himself/herself a “Christian”. Actually, there are not that many real dogmas out there for a simple reason: the early Christians and their followers never saw any need to put it all down in writing and proclaim dogmas left and right just for the heck of it. They wrote letters, true. But dogmas are the product of three things: a consensus of the Church Fathers, a re-affirmation of that consensus by an authorized/competent Church Council and the need to denounce a false teaching!
In other words, in its categorical affirmation of some truths Christianity is the most theologically intolerant religion out there! Again, I need to clarify what I mean by that.
While Christians are taught not to judge, use the Golden Rule and show compassion, mercy and love to their personal enemies and for all those who do not know the Truth of Christ, on a theological level I would argue that original Christianity is the single most intolerant religion out there: it dares to proclaim One Single (“One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5-6)) and Absolute (the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15)) and Eternal Truth (“the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt 16:18)) and says that those who disagree cannot call themselves Christians anymore (vide supra). This is why the notion of “Christians sects” or even “denominations” makes no sense when discussing Christianity. Well, okay, you can, but only in the sense of “they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19). Those who publicly teach anything contradicting those Christian dogmas are called “heretics”, this is not an insult, it just means those who made a different choice.
By the way, the one who breaches the Church hierarchy established by Christ Himself is called either a “schismatic” or a “parasynagogue”. Don’t worry about these terms now, just remember that they are not insults and that original Christianity very much had organization and authority. If not, why even have categories as “heretic” or “schismatic” anyway???
I don’t want to discuss dogmatics here, that is also for a future vignette, all you need to know or the time being is that the Church has the authority to reaffirm/proclaim dogmas and that authority, or the dogmas, cannot be disputed by anybody calling himself ‘Christian’ in the early Christian sense. Hence Saint Athanasios of Alexandria’s (4th century) famous words about the faith “which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian” (St. Athanasius).
Conversely, when the Church declares “anathema” on a teaching or a person (different cases!) this is not a “curse” or an active excommunication. It is simply a public statement, by the competent Church authorities, that teaching X and/or person Y has been declared as “outside the Church” and, to quote Wipikedia (which got only this one paragraph right, the rest of it is useless for us), “For the Orthodox, anathema is not final damnation. God alone is the judge of the living and the dead, and up until the moment of death repentance is always possible. The purpose of public anathema is twofold: to warn the one condemned and bring about his repentance, and to warn others away from his error. Everything is done for the purpose of the salvation of souls.” (stress added by me).
You can, for our purposes only, think of the Church as a “truth reaffirmation entity” or a “clarifier of what could be ambiguous to some“. This is, by necessity, a highly organized entity and a highly hierarchical one. You can also say that “Christian dogmatics are reactive” in the sense that they are formally proclaimed only if and when someone/something is misleading the faithful.
[Sidebar: careful with this one, the Latins absolutely love to pervert the original meaning of this by saying “we never proclaimed anything new, we just *clarified* or *elucidated* what which was always believed in, and by, the Church”. Simply put: this is a blatant and easy to disprove lie: the Latins have innovated for 1000 years, contradicting now only the Church and the Fathers, but even themselves!!! If anybody reads the past sentence and disagrees, I urge you to not sign up for the vignettes and, if you have, sign out. I will not demonstrate such truisms anymore, nor will I bother arguing with Latins about anything anyway for if the Latins “had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us” but they did not. They are still totally unrepentant. Why should I even bother with them anymore? And if they are sincere and not lying, then they failed to realized that “the Church” (not the Papacy!) and any “dogma proclamation/explanation/clarification” has to be upward compatible with everything the Church ever taught. In the words of Saint Vincent of Lérins, 5th century, who said that true Christianity is that “which has been believed everywhere, always and by all”. But then, since the self-declared infallible Popes even condemned and contradicted each other, why even waste any attention on this theological kindergarten?]
By the way, to those Reformed and who did not read the piece by Father Bernstein above, and who say “I believe in the Bible as the Revealed Word of God” I always reply “which Bible” and inform them that the collection of books they are holding in their hands and whom they treat as if it was written by a single author, that it was the Church which decided what does, or does not, belong in this collection of books. Yes, the Church whose authority the Reformed deny (and the Latins terminally disfigured and perverted) decided which books you now will consider “The Revealed Word of God” :-) Furthermore, by declaring the Bible the Revealed Word of God our Reformed friends don’t even realize that they are logically recognizing the authority of the Church and place it clearly above them. So sola scriptura is not only factual false, it is also contains an internal logical contradiction (who decides which scriptura gets to be called “sola“?!).
Before we even begin our trip into the world of early/original/Orthodox (from now on I will consider these as synonyms) Christianity we will have to get a lot of bad weeds out of our mental garden. To use that, I will use both empirical evidence and basic logic. My goal, by the way, is NOT, repeat, NOT to convince or, even less so, “convert” anybody.
One of my goals is to convince you and others (with some exceptions, of course!) of the fact that almost everything you think you know about early Christianity is wrong, false, or otherwise misinterpreted. Early Christians, Fathers and saints would never have recognized 99% of what is called “Christianity” out there as even remotely Christian. In theologica terms, in a theological context, the word “Christian” only has one meaning and that could be expressed as “participant in the Theandric Body of Christ by His Grace and through His Uncreated Energies”. That’s not very convenient. So Christ also gave His Church the Eucharist and the other Mysteries (mistakenly called “Sacraments” in the West) which reveal the ultimate sign of true unity “in Christ”: partaking from the same Cup.
Yes, in the original Christianity, a total and full agreement on faith/dogmatics was a necessary prerequisite to be allowed to partake of the Cup. Modern pseudo-Christianity flipped this (and everything else Christ taught!) on its head and declared that “first we pray and commune together since we are all baptized in the same way (which is false, by the way, but let’s ignore this now) and we worship the same God Christ anyway”.
For early Christians a true union in faith was “crowed” by sharing the Cup while for modern “Christians” any discussion about “Christian unity” must begin with what they call “inter-communion”. What folly indeed!
Next, I want to prove to you, over time, that The One And Only True Church Of Christ (all in caps) not only still exists, but that Christ Himself said so. That is a true no-brainer as soon as you reach for early Christian writings.
Finally, I want to make myself available for questions. I mean real, sincerely expressed, questions, of course, not post-Christian Latin Pope-worshipping teenyboppers who don’t even believe in (or even know about) their own, Latin, theology, even when it contradicts itself, and who don’t care at all about The Truth (in the real Greek/Slavonic sense of the word).
After that, what each person does with what I share is none of my business :-)
Please remember that I have now banned any Latin propaganda in the rules of moderation (rule #21). This also goes for anybody attempted to hijack the topic, force upon us some agenda, or just using a smart-ass snarky tone. They will all be ejected by me personally. Please have no doubts on this account.
However, I want to remind you of two more rules:
Rule #5 says: Criticism of religion. Fundamentally, the religion we profess is the result of a personal choice. As such, I consider religions as legitimate targets for scrutiny and criticism. However, I also think of this blog as my “virtual home” and of commentators as guests in my home. My guests need to know that I, their host, am a traditionalist Orthodox Christian and that I consider traditionalist Muslims (i.e. non-Takfiris) as my friends. You want to think long and hard before insulting my faith or my friends in my home. Atheists and agnostics are welcome here as long as they know where they are and what I expect from my guests. If you can offer a well-informed and logical criticism of Christianity or Islam, that is absolutely fine. But please aware that the minimum to qualify as “well-informed” is to understand the differences between the main Christian and Muslim branches/denominations/sects. Also, here is a rule of thumb: avoid quoting authors, (even if they fancy themselves as “theologians”) who were born after 1900.
There are some superb theologians born after 1900, but unless you are pretty darn sure that your authors deserves to be quoted in discussing the Christian Vignettes, please avoid it as much as possible. If you want to quote Father George Florovsky or Vladimir Lossky – by all means! We would be grateful. But some pretend theologian selling on Amazon – please not, really!
Let’s say that my rule of thumb will keep you out of trouble :-)
Okay, I will stop here and hope for a lively discussion including ways to make this project better, including: how we organized it, the goals of the project, any ideas or suggestions are all welcome.
Unless my plans changes, maybe in response to this first vignette, I plan “what is a “real theologian” according to real/traditional/original/true Christianity?” as my next topic.
PS: also, on form. I would be grateful if you could follow these rules of proper theological discourse: call any person glorified as a saint by the Church as “Saint X” not just his/her first name. The proper way to refer to a priest is “Father X”, no Bill, Frank Joe or Igor. You refer to a deacon as “Father-deacon X”. Next, the words “in Christ” should only be used by those who partake from the same Cup! Otherwise, we are only “brothers in Adam” (which is still a BIG deal!). Furthermore, when referring to the One God you write it with a capital “God” while the lower case “god” should be used only for non-Christian god(s). When writing about God, or Christ, or the Holy Spirit, always used capitals, not only to show courtesy and respect, but also to make it clear what you mean by “God” or “Spirit”. Christ’s name was Jesus, but Orthodox Christians prefer to call Him “Christ” (so as to avoid any semblance of familiarity), the same goes for the Mary, who we formally refer to as “the Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin and Mother of God”, whom we normally refer to as to the “Theotokos“/”Bogoroditsa” (Mother of God), but never just as “Mary”. This is better writing, shows better manners/character and is respectful of that others hold for sacred.
If you really have profound principles which categorically prevent you from doing as I request (say you misunderstood what Christ truly meant when He said “do not call anyone on earth father” (Matt 23:9) and, in what you mistakenly believe is obedience to Christ’s words, you refuse to call any priest “father”. Or, who knows, if you are a hardcore anthropomorphize literalist, you might even refuse to call your own dad “father”! If that is really the case, then, by all means stick to your choice of words as long as it is if not positive, then at least respectfully neutral.
I, Andrei Raevsky, aka The Saker, have absolutely no authority whatsoever to teach anything to anyone. None. Zero. Ziltch. Nada! The “Christian Vignettes” are NOT a catechism, or a course in dogmatics or anything else formal. These vignettes are only one guy’s strictly personal musings on various topics. Nothing more.