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Dumitru Stăniloae and His Philocalical Vision
Dumitru Stăniloae and His Philocalical Vision
Dumitru Stăniloae and His Philocalical Vision
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Dumitru Stăniloae and His Philocalical Vision

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THIS BOOK talks about life and work of Dumitru Stăniloae and designes a general framework of the vision of reality elaborated by this thinker in dialogue with Greek Fathers and byzantine mystics from Philokalia, hance I talk about the philokalical vision of Dumitru Staniloae in which he brings back and renews the ancient theme of Cosmic Christ and contributes to a so much sought today Cosmic Christianity.
Data di uscita15 set 2017
Dumitru Stăniloae and His Philocalical Vision
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    Dumitru Stăniloae and His Philocalical Vision - Maciej Bielawski



    In the countryside of Vlădeni in Transilvania,

    where I was born,

    I began to love God and the cosmos.

    And I continue to be in love with them.

    (Dumitru Stăniloae)

    Romania is the country in which Dumitru Stăniloae was born and spent his whole life. Romanian culture, history, ethnography, and language were shaped in the crossroads of European east and west, between the north and south. The territory of Romania was the meeting place for the ancient culture of Dacia, part of the Roman civilization, and the Christian faith, which itself was under the influences of both Rome and Byzantium. However, the country beginning in medieval times was affected most directly by eastern Christianity with its center in Constantinople. Since the 14th century, when the political identity and the two principalities of Wallachia (south) and Moldavia (north-east) were established, a very strong link has existed between the Romanian national identity and the Orthodox Christian faith.

    In the following centuries the country had to deal with the same problems that confronted almost all the people from the Balkans; the most difficult of which was probably the Turkish domination. The true political, independent, and historical existence of Romania began in 1859, when the two principalities Wallachia and Moldavia were united. Then, in May 1877, the congress in Berlin accepted the sovereignty and political independence of Romania. This national, cultural and political development was preceded and accompanied by an ecclesiastical one. In 1885, the Patriarch in Constantinople recognized the Romanian church as autocephalical. The Romanian culture, science, art, history, philology, poetry, literature, philosophy and theology, really started developing in the second half of the 19th century and continued until the First World War.

    It was into this growing culture that on November 16, 1903, Dumitru Stăniloae was born to Irimie and Reveca as the last of five children. The event took place in the small village of Vlădeni, near Braşov. Vlădeni is located in Transylvania, which at that time was still under the dominion of Hungary. It was especially in this territory that different cultural, confessional and national currents met. Living side by side were Hungarians, Romanians, Saxons, Ukrainians, and Gypsies. To this national plurality was added a confessional one: the Orthodox Church was „accompanied" by Roman Catholic, Greek-Catholic (Uniat), and Protestant and Calvinist churches – just to mention the main denominations.

    The Romanian Orthodox Church in Transylvania, into which Dumitru Stăniloae was baptized, had in that time a relatively uneasy situation. The number of Romanian schools was limited by the Hungarian government, rendering 70% of the population illiterate. There were no Romanian universities in Transylvania, and only very few Romanians could have access to education. Yet the overall development of Romanian culture of that time did impact the Romanians living in Transylvania. It was inevitable that the young Dumitru was affected by all these cultural currents, first as a pupil at an Orthodox confessional school and later at the Andrei Şeguna secondary school in Braşov.

    In 1918, after the First World War, Transylvania was integrated into Romania. However, there were still no theological schools in that part of the country. So Stăniloae, wanting to become a priest, moved to Bukovina in the north-east. There, in 1922, he entered the Faculty of Theology in Cernăuţi (today known as Chernovtsy in Ukraine). Apparently discontent with the teaching and the theology, he left his theological studies for two years (1923-1924) to pursue studies in the Faculty of Literature in the capital, Bucharest. After this experience and under the influence of Metropolite Nicolae Bălan, who opened the Theological Faculty of Sibiu in Transylvania, he resumed and finished his theological studies in 1927. As a licentiate under the direction of Vasile Loichiţă, Dimitru wrote his work on „The Baptism of Babies".

    As was previously mentioned, it was only at the end of the 19th century that Orthodox theological faculties were established in Romania. Thus, in some way for the first time, theology entered the university milieu and so became academic. When Dumitru started his theological formation, this new way of academic teaching was just beginning. This period of theology in Orthodox Churches can be called scholastic, rationalistic and manualistic. It was probably the very spirit of this theology that left Stăniloae unsatisfied and led to his leaving theology to study literature in Bucharest.

    In 1926, Stăniloae published his first article in which he considered the problem of work and possession in the New Testament, yet his theological formation in these early years was very elementary and that his interests had not yet become concrete. A significant change took place between 1927 and 1929 when Dumitru Stăniloae went to study in Greece at the theological faculty of Athens.

    Greece was a country which had obtained independence from Turkish occupation in 1832. In 1833, the Greek Orthodox Church declared her autocephality and independence from Constantinople, which was still considered Ottoman territory. Constantinople recognized the autocephalical state of the Greek Orthodox Church in 1850. The national and ecclesiastical movement of independence and freedom was accompanied by an academic counterpart. In fact, the basis for modern or neo-Greek theology was established in the 19th century. This theology is a separate chapter of the entirety of modern, Christian reflection. Because of the important role of Constantinople among the Orthodox Churches and, in consequence, the special position of Greece, this modern or neo-Greek theology had and continues to have an important voice in the Christianity. It is this environment that Stăniloae encountered in 1927 at the Faculty of Athens which was created in 1837. It was the first time that Orthodox theology had become „academic", having been introduced into the universities and submitted to academic discipline and requirements. German Protestant theology and the independent nature of its theological schools had a special role in this process, especially in Athens.

    Stăniloae went to Athens to study theology knowing that he already had an appointment waiting for him to teach dogmatics in Sibiu. Therefore, he was quite sensitive and open to the dogmatic dimension of theology at Athens. During his time at the Theological Faculty of Athens, the professor of dogmatic and systematic theology, Christos Andruzzos (1867-1935), was an important figure. Stăniloae must have attended his classes and been impressed by this teacher, because already in 1930 he published the Romanian translation of Andruzzos’ Dogmatic.

    When Dumitru arrived in Athens, Andruzzos was sixty years old. He was a famous teacher with a great deal of experience. He was the highest ranking faculty member. Having studied – as was common practice in theological Greece of that time – in the universities of Germany, he had a formation that was for the most part more philosophical than theological. He was known for his literary style and for the beauty of his written language. He was also well known in non-theological and non-ecclesiastical environments, a rarity in itself. Even though his theology is often criticized today by such Greek theologians as J. Zizoulas and Ch. Yannaras, it is clear that Andruzzos was the most important person in Greek theology for 50 or 60 years.

    Andruzzos wrote two books that were especially important for Orthodox theology. The first, Symbolism from the Orthodox point of view, was a kind of synthesis in which the author described the essential differences between various Christian denominations while underlining the truth of the Orthodox way. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this work was its highly polemical nature. The second work, the already mentioned Dogmatic, was important for many reasons. It was a book marked by philosophical language and spirit seeking to understand and explain the Christian faith with the rational mind. Characterized by positive and clear language and explanations, it was really a good synthesis of Orthodox theology. The author achieved this by using Latin, scholastic terminology and structures, and by incorporating the eastern spirit.

    There are two fundamental parts to Andruzzo’s Dogmatic. In the first, the author presents all that can be considered as preparation for and occurring prior to the redemptive act of Christ. Thus, we find chapters on the nature of God where he acknowledges that this One can only be known by faith – the historian of doctrine can clearly detect the influence of E. Kant. Immediately after these chapters, Andruzzos writes about the Trinity, generally repeating the teachings of the Fathers and developing at length the question of „Filioque. The next chapter describes the teaching on „creatio ex nihilo and enters in the polemic with Protestants and Catholics about nature, super-nature and grace. The second part contains a traditional presentation of Christology in which the style is totally western, without any perspective taken from the East such as that of Maximus the Confessor. This part is followed by a section dedicated to grace, the Church and sacraments. The whole work is concluded by a rather personal chapter which tries to describe the Orthodox teaching of eschatology.

    In the time of Stăniloae, there was in Athens also another important figure, Zokos Rosis (1838-1933). He was already almost a hundred years old, but his spirit and works were still well known and considered important in the Faculty. Rosis’ philosophical and theological formation took place primarily in Germany. His teaching incorporated much from the Lutheran theological school of the 19th century, from such figures as F. Schleiermacher, A. von Harnack, I. A. Dorner and R. Rothe. He referred to the Bible and the Fathers in his works more than did Andruzzos, and he introduced a more historical perspective in doing theology, such as the concept of the development of doctrine. In 1903, he published the first volume of his Dogmatic System of the Oriental Orthodox Church, in which he presented his general concept of theology and developed chapters on revelation, the mystery of God and creation. The work has an apologetic tone, with only occasional and decorative use of the Bible and the Fathers, in spite of its Lutheran theological inspiration.

    The third theologian to consider from the Faculty in Athens is Gregory Papamichail (1874-1956). He received his theological formation in the schools of Jerusalem, Chalk and Constantinople, thereupon teaching theology in Jerusalem and Alexandria. From 1918 he was in Athens teaching what is today known as Fundamental Theology. Papamichail published many books which could be classified as apologetic. However, regarding the theological formation of D. Stăniloae, the most important was his book published in Alexandria in 1911: Gregory Palamas Archbishop of Thessalonika. An Ethical Patristic Contribution to the History of Hesicastical Dissent in the XIV Century. It was the first academic work which analyzed the figure and theology of Palamas. However, G. Papamichail did not touch upon the discussion of incommunicable divine essence and communicable divine energies – a topic in some way essential to Palamas’ theology. Rather, he analyzed the conflict between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam of Calabry from a historical perspective, showing that Palamitism and hesychasm were the center of the life and theology of Orthodoxy. Building upon this thesis, the Greek theologian developed a kind of moral theology in which he demonstrated that ascetic effort is necessary to obtain union with and knowledge of God, the purpose of Christian life. Papamichail also asserted that just as the teaching of Gregory Palamas was directed to the monk, so the teaching of Nicholas Cabasilas was directed to the lay person and should be followed by each Christian living in the midst of the world.

    Constantin Dyovouniotis (1872-1943) is the last of the three professors to examine. Like the other previously mentioned theologians from the Faculty of Athens, C. Dyovouniotis also did his studies in Germany. Since 1918, he had been teaching dogmatic theology and had written over 250 books about history and other theological topics. Knowing the Byzantine theological tradition and history very well, he entered into polemical discussions with Ch. Andruzzos, whom he reproached for having a more philosophical than theological approach to dogmatics. Stăniloae most likely received inspiration for future research from the work of this Greek specialist of Byzantine tradition and history, Dyovouniotis. It was probably from his studies on Byzantine history that Stăniloae took some indications for his doctoral dissertation, which was rather more historical than theological.

    In 1928 Stăniloae went to Munich where, among other things, he became acquainted with Protestant dialectic theology. Many years later he himself commented on this fact in an interview saying During my time in Munich in 1928, I learned about Protestant dialectic theology, which was very popular at that time.

    Started by F. Gogarten, F. Thurneysen and K. Barth, dialectic theology – as it is well known – was a new movement among Protestants which, after the first world war, distanced themselves from the liberal theology of F. D. E. Schleiermacher. In 1919 Karl Barth, who became the leader of this movement, published his first Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. A few years later (1923), the group of theologians started to publish the review, Zwischen den Zeiten. They were later joined by such theologians as R. Bultmann and E. Brunner.

    The encounter with the theological current of Protestant dialectic theology was significant for Dumitru Stăniloae. He began to study the thought of Karl Barth and continued an intellectual dialogue with this author for many years. He deeply considered the Barthian idea of Diastasis (Totally Other), in which the Protestant theologian sought to underline the total transcendence of God and his incomprehensibility. It seems, however, that this intellectual dialogue was both creative and contradictory for young Stăniloae. Already studying the theology of Gregory Palamas, he sought to build a bridge between that which in God is communicable and that which is incommunicable in His relation to the world. According to Stăniloae’s intuition, the Palamitan divine essence is comparable to the Barthian diastasis. Yet, on the other hand, he was convinced that through divine energy God can be and is experienced by His creatures as being very close.

    Stăniloae defended his doctoral thesis on Patriarch Dosoftei in May 1928, in the theological school of Cernăuţi where he had initially begun his theological studies. After his successful defense, he dedicated the summer months to travel in Europe and on September 1, 1929 he was appointed as professor of theology in the Theological Academy „Andreina" in Sibiu. Only 26 years old, he started to teach dogmatic and soon also apologetic, pastroral theology and Greek language.

    On October 4, 1930, he married Maria Mihu. His „maecenas, Metropolite Nicola Balan, was a little disappointed, because he had probably wanted to develop him as a monk or an unmarried priest who could have an ecclesiastical career. His wife, Maria, was his lifelong faithful companion. The family did not have an easy beginning with the death of their first children, twins born on 10 May 1931 (the girl died in September of the same year, and the boy, Dumitru, in 1945). One year after his marriage, Dumitru Stăniloae was ordained a deacon (16 October 1931) and another year later a priest (16 October 1932). Their daughter, Lidia, was born in October 8, 1933. About his life as husband and father, Stăniloae said: My condition as husband and father greatly inserted me in the more ample society of the faithful. I perceived in a more concrete manner their need to know the ways in which to live faith".

    The following years brought more official responsibilities. In the beginning of 1934 he became the director of the journal, „Telegraful Român. In this position, which he held until 1945, Stăniloae was obliged to write a great deal, since the bibliography of articles written in this period lists more then 350 titles. On May 29, 1936, Father Dumitru became the rector of the Theological Academy „Andreina in Sibiu and worked on this position for 10 years.

    In general, there are neither significant books nor other texts written by Stăniloae during those period. The articles that appeared in „Telegraful Român" are quite diverse. As a journalist, Dumitru wanted to inform readers and establish good public relations. The subjects of the articles ranged from the popularization of theology, pieties, and culture to commentaries on various events. From a theological point of view, he published many articles addressing Catholicism and some in discussion with Protestants.

    An interesting section of his intellectual activity in this period can be summed up by such terms as Romania and Orthodoxy. Stăniloae participated in public discussion, which was very widespread at the time in Romania. From different perspectives, he tried to define the characteristics of his people, while at the same time building a theoretical and theological basis for Romenian national identity. In fact, a collection of his articles on this subject were published in 1939 under the title Ortodoxie şi Românism (Sibiu 1939). Stăniloae continued to develop the subject of roumenian nationalism in conjunction with Orthodoxy until the end of his life.

    One of Stăniloae’s books was written in a polemical spirit, discussing from a Christian-Orthodox perspective the philosophy of the famous Romanian poet, writer and thinker, Lucian Blaga (1895-1961). Already in 1934, upon the publication of Blaga’s first philosophical trilogy (Trilogia cunoăşterii), Stăniloae had written an article analyzing his metaphysics. When Blaga later published his Trilogia culturi (1936-1937) and Artă şi valoare (1939), followed by an almost theological Diferenţialele divine (1940), Stăniloae initiated open polemical discussion by publishing a whole series of articles in his journal „Telegraful Român". He soon assembled his articles and published them as Poziţia d-lui Lucian Blaga faţă de Creştinism şi Ortodoxie (Sibiu 1942). Strongly inspired by contemporary German philosophy, Blaga expressed in his writings the impossibility for human beings to know God and thus in some way he limited human life and culture to horizontal dimensions. The metaphysics of Blaga included a religious dimension, although more aesthetic and somewhat pantheistic. So, Stăniloae, having a great capacity for dogmatics and apologetics, clarified in his book the Christian and Orthodox position by discussing the problem of truth in Christianity. He talked about the philosophy of religion which could sometimes be anti-Christian. Stăniloae openly opposed the immanentism of the culture presented by Blaga, offering instead a vision of history and culture in which the divine element and humanity are distinguished yet closely collaborating.

    Stăniloae had been studying the works of Gregory Palamas for more than ten years, ever since he first encountered his theology during his studies in Athens. Having traveled to Western Europe and to Constantinople to verify some manuscripts of Gregory Palamas, in he subsequently wrote an article on the divine light and translated two works of this 14th century theologian. I believe that Stăniloae developed his interest in Palamitical theology, which presented God as being personal and acting in the history and hearts of people, not just because of his own religious experience, but also in contrast to modern German philosophy and theology which presented God as being only transcendental. The latter was too rational