Fr. Ierotheos of Nafpaktos: “The Theological works of Fr. John Romanides"

ImageOccasionally, some people critically assess the theological works of the blessed professor, Fr John Romanides and they express some views, especially recently, over his perception of theological and spiritual issues. It is weird that such assessments are being made after his demise, when he himself is no longer able to reply to the assumptions made on his theological works.

In addition, he is being judged by people who either did not know him personally or have only partly studied his work, without examining it in its entirety. It is obvious that all those people interpret some of his theological views from their own point of view and they misapprehend them. They may possibly think that if they interpret the works of a great theologian they may become ‘great’ themselves.

I have had the extraordinary honor  to get to know him after he received his pension from the university, and especially during his stay in Athens. We had been talking almost daily on various matters involving the Church and Theology. He  also used to send me some of his work and would explain over the phone his views. He would do the same thing with professor, Fr George Metallinos, and the theologian Athanasios Sakarellos. He had also asked me to register him in the hieratical lists of my Bishopric, without of course receiving any remuneration, because he had only wanted to belong to an ecclesiastical body. This eventually took place after he supplied to me his leaving certificate from the Holy Bishopric of America, as I had asked him to. Therefore, I am his last Bishop.

I did get acquainted with his personality and his theological views. I was once very impressed when I had visited him at the intensive care unit in the hospital.He had been connected to various tubes and I had asked him how he was. He paid no attention to my question but started referring to various issues about the Church and theology.  This shows how important Church theology was to him so that he had been ignoring his ill health, even the possibility of his death. Theology was his entire life, even to his last breath.

From all that which I have ever written about Fr Romanides and what will later be published , I would like to mention two ‘phases’ of his theological thought proces, if one may speak about the existence of such phases.

It refers to the first phase of his theological creation, which centers on his treatise on “The fall of our forefathers”. The second phase refers to the niptic- hesychastic teachings of the Apostles, especially that of Saint Paul. Naturally, as one may suspect, I will not deal with history here, but mainly with theology, even though he was regarding these two faculties as interchangeable.

  1. “The Forefathers’ fall”

He dealt with this issue because of the surrounding environment in the States and his quest for a church theology on the creation of the world and the fall of man. It is well known that Fr. John grew up in the States and studied in the Catholic and Protestant schools. He was very versatile with their theology, like that of Thomas Aquinas and of other crucial protestant theologians. The Protestants were denying the patristic tradition and were only studying the Scriptures, while the Catholic theologians were relying on Thomas Aquinas- who had been interpreting Saint Augustine- and other scholastic theologians.  This contradiction between the two Christian traditions intrigued Fr John to look into the so- called Apostolic Fathers – those who succeeded the Apostles but preceded the great Fathers of the 4th Century.

This was a most clever move, since he had recognized that the Apostolic Fathers were the connecting link between the Apostles and the Great Fathers of the Church. This link was unbreakable. It is through the Apostolic Fathers that the teachings of the Apostles have been conveyed to the future generations.

When we are talking about the Apostolic Fathers we refer to Saint Clement of Rome; the author of the works “The Shepherd of Erma” and “Barnabas epistle”, Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, Saint Polykarpos of Smyrna and Papia Ierapoleos. Saint Erineos of Lyon and Hyppolytos of Rome are connected to the above mentioned fathers.

Therefore, he had had studied extensively the Apostolic Fathers in the ‘spirit’ of the teaching  of the Apostles, and compared them on the one hand with the Orthodox Fathers and on the other with the western scholastic and reformists theologians. The whole progress of his theological thought is revealed in the subtitle of his thesis which had the theme of “The Forefathers’ fall”.

In a handwritten exercise book, which I possess and in which he was making notes while he was studying for the issue before formally expressing his views in his well known thesis, has the following title and  subtitle: “The Forefathers’ fall : the cosmological and anthropological preconditions of this fall in the early Church, compared with the preconditions set  by the later Greek patristic theology and the western scholastic theology, especially that of St Augustine, of  Anselm  and Aquinas”.

This is the first draft of this work. In this exercise book he cited paragraphs from the New Testament, which he had distinguished by theme, showing that he had obviously read the entire New Testament as part of this study as well as the patristic works of the Apostolic Fathers and the Fathers of the 4rth Century: Namely Saint Athanasios , Saint Vasil, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint John Chrysostomos  and others, as well as Saint Dionysius Aeropagitis  , Saint Maximus the Confessor etc.

In his typed thesis, which again came to my possession, there are also handwritten corrections and interventions with several additions to the first draft, as well as notes on the margins etc.  Obviously this constitutes the first draft: He has given the title and the subtitle to this one as: “The forefathers’ fall: the cosmological and anthropological preconditions for the fall from the time of the New Testament up to the period of Saint Eirineus”. In a handwritten note however, he altered the title to: “Contributions to the teachings on the Forefathers’ fall: The preconditions for the teachings of the early Church up to the time of Saint Eirineus in comparison with the Orthodox and Western teachings up to that of Thomas Aquinas”.

In the final version which was published by Pournaras Publications, the title and the subtitle of his thesis have been designated as: “The Forefathers’ fall: Contributions to the research on the preconditions of the teachings on the  forefathers’ fall in the early Church up to Saint Eirineus in comparison with the comprehensive direction of the Orthodox and Western theology up to that of Thomas Aquinas”.

It is clearly obvious from the changes which the author had made to the subtitle that he was trying to express in the best possible way the difference between the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and the views of scholastic theologians on the issue of the forefathers’ fall. He was always relying on the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers up to Saint Eirineus, as the basis for his theological thinking.

Therefore, this first phase of the research by Fr John Romanides, relies on the Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers of the Church in contrast with the works by Saint Augustine and Scholastic theologians. This attempt shows a serious researcher and a scholar who is interested at this stage to perceive the ‘spirit’ of the views of the Church Fathers and in my opinion, to prove that the Orthodox Church is the “Historic Church” which has preserved Apostolic tradition as it passed with authenticity from the Apostles to the Apostolic Fathers and from them onto the later fathers. The Catholics and Protestants not only have they misinterpreted these teachings but they have also significantly changed  them.

  1. His niptic- hesychastic teaching

After this basic research, Fr Romanides dwelled deeper into the issue which relates to the cosmological and anthropological preconditions of the forefathers’ fall, in order to examine the consequences of man’s fall, which are the darkness ( skotismos, confusion) of his intellect and his withdrawal from God’s Light. He also went on to examine the way in which man returns to God, resumes communion with Him and participates in Him. That is, how man is able to reach illumination and deification through purification. He was immensely supported in this second face of his creative work by certain interpretations of some parts of the New Testament, especially by the interpretations of Saint Paul’s teachings.

As one may determine from his studies into “The Forefathers’ fall”, as found in his exercise book, he had assembled all the passages of the New Testament which refer to the Devil, to the creating energy of God, to man’s sin, to the spiritual death,  to the meaning of the heart as ‘nous” ( intellect) , to divine justice, to the “freedom from death and corruption”, to “the self- preservation instinct” and to Christ’s crucifixion etc.

One may discern by studying these perikopes, especially those of Saint Paul’s, that Fr John had been collecting all the passages of the New Testament which refer to the niptic-hesychastic life of man as a precondition for his salvation. This work is the groundwork of his intention to support the view that the niptic- hesychastic tradition was indeed the way the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers lived. This study of the New Testament helped him later on to support his views against the Protestants when he had been appointed as Greece’s envoy at their joint discussions.

Several times he told me that the Protestants are denying the Fathers’ teachings, cannot comprehend the conceptions of ‘the person’, the hypostasis, the substance or the energy of God. They regard these as examples of the influence of Greek philosophy which has corrupted apostolic tradition. He also mentioned to me that the prominent Protestant theologian Harnak was convinced that Orthodoxy is an idolatric form of Christianity. Thus, when the Protestants were listening to orthodox theologians using terms familiar in Greek philosophy, they would become upset, would not understand anything and they would reject the entire teaching. Therefore, it was not easy for an orthodox theologian to use terms used in patristic theology, because the Protestants could not understand such terminology.

This would make Fr John to constantly use passages from the New Testament in his dialogues with the Protestants, especially passages from Saint Paul, in order to put them on the spot.

In his discussions with the Jews he would also expand on passages from the Old Testament regarding the revelation of the bodiless Word, of the Great Will of the Angel of Yahweh, in relation to patristic tradition and this would amaze them. Fr John, would of course never give arbitrary interpretations to Saint Pauls’ passages, but had always in mind the teachings of the Apostolic Fathers and of the great Fathers of the Church. Usually he would not refer to any specific passages. This means that he comprehended the ‘spirit’ of the Fathers, but he would more often use passages from the Apostles. Thus, he used the Apostolic terminology on matters of spiritual life, as for example on issues regarding the heart, the intellect ( nous),  the beliefs , perfection ( teleiosi) etc.

Because I knew him personally and I studied his works diligently and got acquainted with his verbal prose , I believe that he was not arbitrarily interpreting passages from the New Testament and especially of Saint Paul’s, but was relying on two important interpretative keys: the  two basic traditions.

One such tradition was the teachings of Saint Simon the New Theologian, on whom he was very versatile, had studied his teachings from the original and was linking them to those of Saint Paul’s.

I have also studied diligently and have deciphered all the works by Saint Simon. I have come to accept this connection in the works of Fr John.

He would several times admit this openly. At other times this connection was evident. In the future, I will try to do this myself. To try, that is, to link Fr John’s interpretation of Apostolic passages with the teachings of Saint Simon the New Theologian.

The second tradition with which he used to interpret Saint Paul’s epistles was the living testimony of the hesychasts in Holy Mount Athos, with whom he had been discussing issues pertaining to the purification of the heart, to the illumination of the intellect, to the Lord’s Prayer and to contemplation, that is, the contemplation of the Uncreated Light.

He had also been impressed by the book “The Adventures of a pilgrim”, by the writings of Saint Silouan the Athonite and of course by the works of the Fathers in Filokalia. Thus, Fr John’s niptic-hesychastic teachings are inexorably connected to those of Saint Paul, Saint Simon the New Theologian and the modern hesychasts whom he had directly or indirectly met. In my opinion, he also relied on his own personal experience, but I am not certain what level did he reach. The truth is that one cannot insist on certain issues unless he has personal experience.

One blessed experienced spiritual Father told me that he was impressed by Fr John’s insistence on certain issues and that this prompted him to pay special attention to them as well.

We must add to this the teachings of Saint Dionysus Aeropayitis, which he had distinguished from the Neoplatonic tradition with strong arguments; the teachings by Saint Gregory Palamas   whom he had meticulously studied and whose teachings he was regarding as the essence of the hesychastic tradition of the Church; and the teachings of the Fathers of Kappadokia. He was boasting about the later since they had the same origins.

His insistence on the niptic-hesychastic tradition was based on the fact that this way of life was the one espoused by the Prophets, the Apostles and the Saints as it is demonstrated in the Scriptures and in the whole tradition of the Church: The Holy Canons, the Hymns, the patristic works. He believed that this was particularly demonstrated  in the discussion between Saint Gregory Palamas and Barlaam and later on in the discussion between Saint Gregorios, Akindinos and Gregoras.

Fr John attached a great significance and importance to the niptic tradition because this is the place where one may find not just the dogmas of the Church but also the differences between Orthodox Tradition and that of the Catholics  and Protestants. He pin pointed this difference in the terms ‘the analogy of being’  “ analogia entis” and the ‘analogy of faith’ «analogia fidei” which has to do with the different ways one comprehends God’s revelation. ‘The analogy of being refers to the fact that there is a relation between the created and the uncreated being; that God created the world from archetypes and that man’s salvation rests on the return of his soul to the uncreated world of ideas. This is the area of classical metaphysics which the French- Latin theology was influenced from. According to this theory one can perceive the essence of God, if he perceives the essence of created beings, using human rationality. This was the view expressed by Barlaam and that’s why Saint Gregorios Palamas objected to this, the so called “scholastic analogy”.

The analogy of faith refers to the relationship between man  and God through faith, as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This tradition says that God is not revealed by philosophical concepts but through the Holy Scriptures, which is the word of God. Thus, when one studies the Scriptures comes to the knowledge of God and into communion with him, since God’s revelation has been given in the Holy Scriptures.

Fr John was insisting that these two traditions (analogia entis - analogia fidei) describe western Christianity and are foreign to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.

The Orthodox Church says that if one is to meet God he has to rely on his personal participation with the uncreated purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God, which is experienced in the Church, by the Holy Mysteries and through personal struggle. (askesis).  Personal struggle is the niptic-hesychastic tradition, which is the precondition for the comprehension of dogmas and the path in which man meets with God.

Thus, knowledge of God is not related to philosophy, nor to just reading the Holy Scriptures, which is nevertheless important because it gives an account of the experience of deification, but it is connected with the experienced niptic-hesychastic tradition and by living a full life in the Church.

Fr John was describing this nyptic tradition as ‘therapeutic’. We come to meet this term in all the writings of the fathers. It is only through purification and illumination that man can reach deification and communion with God and regain his health.

It is important to note that Saint Gregorios Palamas used the Virgin Mary as the prototype of a hesychast, since she lived in the Most Holy Place by using the method of quietude. Therefore, he says, that once man reaches the stage where he contemplates God, then “she is the only example of a truly soul”.

This ecclesiastic tradition was the foundation of Fr John’s theology and it was the practical consequence of his theological research into the Forefathers’ fall. That’s why he believed that if one does not comprehend the divergence of analogia entis and analogia fidei from the theology of the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers, one cannot understand the western heresies or the value of the niptic-hesychastic tradition of the Orthodox Church.

3.   Fr John’s contribution

The two phases of his theological beliefs (The Forefathers’ Fall and the niptic tradition of the Church) are not independent from each other, but they are closely connected: The latter phase is a continuation of the former.

Some people believe that Fr John began as an excellent hopeful theologian, with an important contribution to this faculty, but he lost his bearings on the way and did not facilitate the theological renaissance of the country. I think that those who interpret Fr John’s work in this way do him injustice. The same injustice is done by those who believe that he was influenced by either the Protestants or the followers of Origenis.

Fr John was an intelligent man with an inquisitive mind. He remained steadfast to Orthodox Tradition and was expressing the authentic experience of the Church. Of course he was versatile with the theological views of his time and was expressing the authentic view. Some of his linguistic expressions cannot by themselves attribute to him an influence from other beliefs. Besides Saint Basil and Saint Gregory the Theologian have studied Origenis, have accumulated some of his ideas and created the so called ‘ Filokalia’,  but are not regarded as his disciples. (Here we are not talking about the much later “Filokalia’ compiled by the Saints Makarius Notaras and Nikodemos Ayiorite.)

As human, Fr John may have made some mistakes in his life, for example in his expressions and the explanations he gave to his theology, but he was a great theologian and a master who helped to rejuvenate the hesychastic tradition of recent years. It is not right for him to be dismissed or misinterpreted by people who select some of his wording, without comprehending it and without understanding the whole ‘concept’ of his teaching.

A great master is only interpreted by a great disciple or a reader and not by people who inadvertently express their subconscious mindset.

I consider very important the testimony and confession offered by Fr George Metallinos, the renown theologian of our times; the intelligent and charismatic and tireless researcher. According to him, when as a postgraduate student in Cologne in Germany in 1973, he came across a typed manuscript of Fr John’s Dogmatic, he regarded it as a “gift of God’s grace”. He writes: “I threw aside all the German-catholic and protestant manuals and systematic theological works (I have had enough of those!), and I began hungrily to study the true patristic Dogmatic of the Greeco-American, Priest and professor, whom I had not yet had the blessing to meet”.

Later on he writes that after studying this work he “recognized that this unknown to me Fr Romanides, had become my most important teacher in Dogmatic theology but also in ecclesiastic history… so that I could be described as and feel like being his disciple. I am especially happy when I am being ‘accused’ of clearly exhibiting his influence on me”.

In his speech at Fr Romanides’ funeral he stresses: “We must designate the period ‘before and after’ Romanides. His work is regarded as instructive and as the task of a writer with a fighting spirit. He has really severed our theology with our scholastic past, which has so far been acting as the Babylonian captivity of our theology”.

As I have already mentioned, Fr George Metallinos is a top teacher of theology, a highly valued researcher and a scholar; a cleric with orthodox views, but mostly he is an authentic and untainted man without subconscious complexes. That is the reason why he does not detest anyone but recognizes the work of the pioneers in theology, like Fr John.

For this reason, in my opinion, his confession-testimony is vital and substantial, and therefore it cannot be dismissed.

Finally whoever wants to get acquainted with Fr Jonh’s teachings he must distinguish the two phases in his teachings. Namely, his book on the Forefathers’ Fall, which was based on the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers, as well as what he had written and verbally supported regarding the niptic-hesychastic tradition, which he was examining through Saint Paul’s epistles in relation with the teachings of Saint Simon the New Theoligian , Saint Gregorios Palamas , the Fathers from Kappadokia and the hesychasts whom he had personally met.

The Church is the body of Christ. Just as each material body keeps the nutrient it needs to feed its parts and discards the rest, the same way the Church safeguards authentic teachings and discards all the poisonous and indigestible concepts, which rely on philosophical thinking and ‘theologic’ imagination.

I believe that the Church will safeguard the ‘spirit’ of Fr John’s teachings just because it is in harmony with the Apostolic and Patristic tradition, which constitutes the deeper ‘meaning’ of Orthodox teaching. This teaching leads man to deification and salvation.

Fr John Romanides’ teaching is not “a sophisticated myth” (B Peters 1, 16). But it is the path which leads to mount Tabor and the experience of Christ. That is the reason why it is authentic and comforting to the soul.


Translated from Greek by: Olga Konnaris-Kokkinos

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