Monday, July 14, 2008

Bishop HILARION on the Faith of the Fathers

The works of the Fathers are not a mere museum exhibit, just as the “patristic faith” should not be understood as only a heritage of past centuries. The opinion that the holy Fathers are the theologians of the past is quite widespread nowadays. This “past” itself is defined in varying ways. According to some, the patristic age ends in the 8th century with St John of Damascus’s Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, summing up several centuries of theological dispute. Others situate its end in the 11th century with the final schism between the first and the second Rome , or mid-way through the 15th century, when the second Rome , Constantinople, fell, or in 1917, with the fall of the “third Rome ”, Moscow , as the capital of an Orthodox empire. Therefore a return to “patristic roots” is conceived as a return to the past and the restoration of the 7th, 15th or 19th century.

This point of view must be rejected. In the opinion of Fr. Georges Florovsky, “The church is still fully authoritative as she has been in the ages past, since the Spirit of Truth quickens her now no less effectively than in the ancient times;” therefore it is not possible to limit the “patristic age” to one or other historic era. A well-known contemporary theologian, Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia states, “An Orthodox must not simply know and quote the Fathers, he must enter into the spirit of the Fathers and acquire a “patristic mind”. He must treat the Fathers not merely as relics from the past, but as living witnesses and contemporaries.” Bishop Kallistos does not consider the patristic age to have ended in the 5th or 8th century; the patristic era of the church continues to this day:

Indeed, it is dangerous to look on “the Fathers” as a closed cycle of writings belonging to the past, for might not our own age produce a new Basil or Athanasius? To say that there can be no more Fathers is to suggest that the Holy Spirit has deserted the church.

Hence the confession of a “patristic faith” not only implies the study of patristic writings and the attempt to bring the legacy of the Fathers to life, but also the belief that our era is no less “patristic” than any other. The “Golden Age” inaugurated by Christ, the apostles and the early Fathers endures in the works of the church fathers of our days, to last as long as the church of Christ will stand on this earth and as long as the Holy Spirit will animate it.

- from a paper, "The Patristic Heritage and Modernity" delivered at the 9th International Conference on Russian monasticism and spirituality, Bose Monastery (Italy), 20 September 2001