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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. Dangers of modern theology (From an address at the Kiev Pecherski Lavra to the bishops, clergy, monastics, laity, teachers and students of the Kiev Theological Academy, Kiev, July 29, 2009)
DANGERS OF CONTEMPORARY
From an address at the Kiev Pecherski Lavra to the bishops, clergy,
monastics, laity, teachers and students of the Kiev Theological Academy,
Kiev, July 29, 2009
Let me talk about what I consider to be the most dangerous development in contemporary theology. The emergence of such dangers became a concern to me at the end of the 1990s. My position then required me to travel a lot. I took part in various dialogues with non- Orthodox, and tried to understand what was going on in world theology in general and in the theology of the West, both Protestant and Catholic. At the same time I looked closely at what was happening in Orthodox theology, including in Western Europe and in Paris. In so doing it seemed to me that Christian theology had fallen captive to secular thought. At first I thought, no, that cannot be.Then, however, I began to read the texts more attentively, and I realized that, yes, there was a tremendous danger. Christian theology had become captive to secular thought, and this taking captive of Christian theology in the West was far from harmless. What we had here was not simply the philosophical borrowing of a secular idea and its transfer to the Christian environment.This would not have been too serious.When there are weeds in the garden, you see where the good plants are and where the weeds, and you simply pull out the weeds. This was not the case here. What we had here was the penetration and diffusion of secular ideas into the very fabric of theological thought, so deeply in fact that the final outcome was a product of very poor quality.
What I mean to say is that Western Christian theology has been hugely influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the philosophical ideas of liberalism. During the Enlightenment the secular mind and secular philosophy, including political thinking, were in conflict with the Church, represented as part of a system of oppression. People saw it as their task to combat tyrants, i.e., tyranny, which meant monarchy and the Church. However, it was impossible to simply go to the faithful and say, We want to dismantle the monarchy and to eliminate the Church.’ People had to be encouraged to do these things, because revolutions are always carried out by ordinary people. It required a clear idea, and what appeared was the idea of freedom, the idea of human rights. A human on his own is good, as Diderot said. He is born clean and bright, and the entire social system should be arranged in such a way that this ‘clean white sheet’ is not dirtied by anyone. Let people develop freely, remove the factors that kill their freedom, and release them from the tyranny of state and church. Liberate the inner light they originate with. Give them the possibility to learn, and they will do wonders!
This era ended up putting man at the centre of the world; not God but man! In fact, everything had begun slightly earlier, during the Renaissance. With loud calls for liberty, equality, fraternity, people’s heads were turned! How many churches and monasteries were destroyed during the implementation of these ideas!? Today, in France, you can see the ruins of great monasteries that were utterly destroyed. These and the remains of destroyed cathedrals stand in memory of that era.
These liberal postulates went actively into people’s consciousness. In fact, history since then has done no more than develop the basic ideas of the Enlightenment - including these I have just mentioned - in philosophy, political practice, and, most interestingly, in theology.
Protestant theology was the first to take on board these ideas, to be joined later by Catholicism. In the West, the yardstick for judging theologians and clergy was: ‘Is he conservative or progressive?’ These were the cliches then, and they exist today: If you are
progressive, your theology inevitably supports the philosophy of the Enlightenment, if you are conservative, it does not. Conservative is bad, progressive is good.
I began to think about this topic, and my thoughts took the following path: How can one say of a person that he is holy after his birth? How can one say it’s enough not to hinder him and will develop good principles all by himself, and liberate himself all by himself? What about original sin? Is human nature holy at birth? If a person is born with original sin and you give him every opportunity to liberate his inner principles, is it not sin that will be liberated? I also pondered on whether liberal philosophy has the idea of sin. Certainly it does not.
There is another idea lurking in all this: that every person is autonomous, and every person creates his own value system. He is autonomous from God, he is autonomous from other people, and he creates his own value system. If there is no difference between sin and holiness, then perhaps there is also no difference between truth and lie. In reading modern philosophical texts, I became convinced that this is how postmodern civilization understands the problem of good and evil: There is no absolute good and evil, but a plurality of views. However, if there is no difference between good and evil, then it is hell on earth.
As a child I once asked my father: ‘Dad, they say that the Antichrist will come in the end, but how will people believe in him? After ail, the Antichrist is evil. Will he preach killing and stealing? How will people believe him if it’s clear this is evil?’ My father couldn’t answer, but now I answer the question for myself: they will readily believe, if there is no difference between good and evil! After all, until recently no one could imagine that governments would support same-sex marriages at the legislative level, with such unions being placed on the same level as real marriages between men and women! Could we, the older generation, 20 or 30 years ago, have imagined such a question being raised? Today it’s just ‘alternative behaviour.’ It isn’t sin, just as the violation of family faithfulness. Why do families break down? They do so because for those in-
volved all this is not about sin but merely pleasure. If two people decide to please each other, what’s wrong with that? There’s no concept of sin, and therefore any alternative behaviour is legal. Only one condition exists: it must not prevent other people from expressing their own freedom.
The theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the West was directed, to a great extent, towards the support of liberalism. Of course, no theologian speaks directly about that. Theologians don’t say that we must not differentiate between good and evil, but the liberal, so-called progressive theology reorients people’s minds away from the tradition of the Church, which clearly expresses the entire Christian axiology and morality, and toward secular values.
My first articles, which raised the problem, were written in 1999.18 Some people reacted to them with extreme discomfort, while others (by the way, in the West), with great interest. I, along with colleagues who supported me in the Department for External Church Relations, began to develop these ideas and discuss them at various international meetings. For us, inter-Christian activity helps our Church to witness about Orthodoxy, and this was our testimony. I must tell you that we have laced criticism and lack of understanding also from Orthodox theologians.
When the entire theoretical basis had been developed, by a group of people then working at the DECR, the idea arose of publishing it in the form of the ‘Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church’, placing in this document the Orthodox understanding of history, morality and freedom. After this the work continued and was completed with the document on ‘The Russian Orthodox Church’s Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights,’ as adopted last year.This is an absolutely ground-breaking document, an absolutely new contribution to world theology, which sets out in contemporary language the norms of the Christian tradition and makes them understandable to modern people. This
18 This book, p. 27
document does not deny human freedom because, of course, God created men as beings of free will.This document does not deny the positive significance of human rights because, when freedom is in danger of being trampled on, it must be protected. People cannot be turned into slaves, they need to maintain their own dignity. Nevertheless, dignity is a moral category, and there can therefore be no freedom without morality.There can be no freedom without moral responsibility. If people were free and at the same time behaved in accordance with the system of values offered by the treasury of Church tradition, the world would be a very different place.
I gave you (....) an example of how one should not borrow philosophical ideas that are alien to Divine Revelation. We should not follow the way of conformism, trying to connect the unconnected. Thus, true theology requires courage at all times.
I recall when, during the difficult days for the Church during the Soviet period, we met with Western theologians and they, looking ‘top down’, said: ‘We call upon you to show courageous, prophetic devotion. Oppose your government!’ However, we knew the meaning of opposing the government at that time. It meant depriving people of the opportunity to partake of Holy Communion, to baptise their children, it meant destroying the small islands of spiritual life.
Today it is we who address these theologians: ‘Oppose the dominant liberal pattern of society! Tell the truth about sin; condemn same-sex “marriages”!’ - No, they lower their eyes.... Those who used to put forward these ideas do not agree with us. They try to fight with us, but do not come out with a single argument that we cannot answer. This is nothing but talk! Today the Orthodox witness is much more powerful than all this politicised tinsel!
Thus, in order to be a theologian, courage is always required of a priest or a member of the hierarchy. This is not job for the weak. Physically, we can be weak, but spiritually we must be very strong, because throughout the two thousand years of its existence, the Church of Christ has had a single destiny: to bear witness to the truth of God. This witness has never been and will never be
easy. It was not easy in the Roman Empire nor was it in the days of the Holy Fathers. It was not easy in the difficult times we have gone through together, nor is it today. The Holy Fathers, in uniting secular learning with theology, formed a kind of synthesis. A famous theologian, the archpriest Georgy Florovsky called it a patristic synthesis. He dreamed of a new patristic synthesis whereby the current generation of theologians would learn to invest external secular culture with theological creativity, enabling theological creativity to fertilise this culture and ensuring that the words of the Church are always up-to-date and relevant. I pray and hope this dream of Father Florovsky will come true during our lifetime.
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