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Greek Theology


On May 29, 1453, when the Muslim Turks captured Constantinople and put an end to the Byzantine Empire, the development of Byzantine theology ceased. From 1500 on theology was written by Greek-speaking Orthodox and Catholics inhabiting what had been the Byzantine Empire. This body of material that is often designated Byzantine theology, but a more exact term would be Greek theology of the Byzantine tradition.

This article deals with Greek theology: (1) from 1500 until the patriarchate of Cyril lucaris (1612); (2) from Cyril Lucaris to the Synod of Constantinople (1723); (3) from 1723 to the constitution of the autocephalous Church of Greece (1833); (4) from 1833 until 1923; and (5) from 1923 to the beginning of the ecumenical movement.

First Period: 1500 to 1612. Even though the patriarchal school continued to function in Constantinople under the guidance of Matthaeus Kamariotas during the reign of Muammad II, theological centers of learning were gradually suppressed. Among the Orthodox, the Slavs, especially in Kiev and Moscow, utilized their independence of Constantinople and began to develop their own Slav theology (see russian theology). Greek students migrated to theological universities in the West, especially in Germany, Italy, and England. Their initiation into non-Orthodox theology resulted eventually in grouping into three types of theologian depending upon one or another emphasis: (1) the conservative, rigid followers of early Byzantine theology who would accept no influence from the West and assumed a polemical attitude in the attempt to preserve their traditional Orthodoxy; (2) those who came under the influence of Protestant doctrines and incorporated them into Oriental theology; and finally (3) those who favored Latin theology and strove to introduce Latin concepts and terminology into Orthodoxy.

The abortive attempt made by the Council of Florence (1439) to heal the schism between the Western and Eastern Churches had prepared the ground for fresh, anti-Latin writings. Catholic missionaries entered Orthodox countries intent on proselytizing to bring about unity of faith and practice particularly in the Near East and in the Polish kingdom. The reunion of Brest-Litovsk (1595), which united millions of Orthodox Ukrainians with Rome, further stiffened Greek opposition to Latin theology. From the middle of the 16th century many Byzantine writers who had studied in Italy and Germany manifested interest in Catholic as well as Protestant theology. This development was looked upon with disfavor by the conservative Greek theologians.

Augsburg Confession. Early Protestant leaders, beginning with melanchthon, had sought the friendship of the Orthodox. The Reformers were eager to obtain Greek approval of their augsburg confession. When Patriarch Joasaph II sent his deacon Demetrius Mysos to Wittenberg to investigate the newly reformed Christianity, Melanchthon gave him a Greek version of the Augsburg Confession, but the patriarch quickly rejected its teaching (1559). In 1573 the professors of the University of Tübingen, through Stephan Gerlach, tried to obtain approval for their doctrines from Jeremias II. Three documents sent by way of response, in 1578, 1579, and 1581, completely rejected the Lutheran Confession. These were the first Greek writings to sound the alarm at Protestant infiltration.

The principal author of these responses was Patriarch Jeremias, but others collaborated, such as Joannes and Theodosius Zygomalas, Leonarus Mindonios, Damascene the Studite, and probably Gabriel Severus. The Council of trent's doctrine was upheld in the Orthodox presentation of their teaching on justification and free will, on the Sacraments, on the invocation of the saints, and on the monastic life. However, with regard to procession of the Holy Spirit, the filioque doctrine was rejected. In general, the fundamental tenets of the Augsburg Confession were repulsed with an exhortation that the Protestants return to the doctrine of the Church Fathers and the definitions of the first seven ecumenical councils.

Meletius Pigas. Catholic influence is seen more in the Orthodox theologians after Jeremias, who remained up to his death strongly anti-Catholic and attacked the Roman authorities for their forceful tactics in bringing about the union of Brest. But many of the Greek theologians who had studied at the University of Padua openly accepted Catholic teachings. The first Greek theologian of note to study in Italy was Meletius Pigas (1601). He was born on the island of Crete, and after completing his studies at Padua he took the monastic habit and began to preach and teach. He was made patriarch of Alexandria in 1590.

After the union of Brest Pigas turned from his earlier Catholic sympathies and began to write sharply against Roman teaching. "Concerning the Primacy of the Pope in the Form of Letters" was his first polemical attack. Three of these letters were sent to the Ukrainians living in the Polish kingdom, urging them to repudiate the union of Brest, while the fourth was directed to the Orthodox faithful on the island of Chios where there was a similar movement in favor of reunion with Rome. Little originality is shown by Pigas, who repeated the standard objections of his Byzantine predecessors against the primacy of the pope, filioque, Communion under one species, purgatory, fasting on Saturday, and use of unleavened bread. His main theological works are "The Orthodox Christian," a long discussion on the procession of the Holy Spirit, Penance, and purgatory (published at Vilna in 1596 and later at Jassy, Rumania, 1769), and "Concerning the True Catholic Church and Its Genuine and True Head and Concerning the Primacy of the Pope of Rome"(1585). His archdeacon Maximus of Peloponnesus followed in his footsteps leaving among his other anti-Latin writings an "Enchiridion against the Schism of the Papists" in which, like Pigas, he attacked the doctrine of the primacy, procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, and the use of unleavened bread. But both Pigas and Maximus follow the Catholic position in presenting the Sacraments.

Two other alumni of Padua University were Maximus Marguinios (1602) and Gabriel Severus (1616). Maximus had disputed with Gabriel Severus at Venice in favor of the Catholic doctrine expressed in the word filioque. He presented his arguments in three treatises, which he sent to the Patriarch Jeremias II in 1683, and staunchly supported Jeremias II against Protestant influences in Orthodoxy. Gabriel Severus, Metropolitan of Philadelphia, spent most of his writing career in Venice where he was in charge of the Greek Orthodox church of St. George. In his "Brief Tract on the Holy Sacraments" (Venice 1600) he used terminology borrowed chiefly from the Latin scholastics to describe the theology of the Sacraments in a refutation of the doctrines of the Protestants.

Second Period: 1612 to 1723. The 17th century was a period of controversy both within the Greek Orthodox Church itself and on the part of Catholics and Protestants who fought to draw the Orthodox to themselves. The Protestants seemed to have had the first success in attracting Cyril Lucaris to Calvinistic doctrines, which he expressed in his Confession of 1629; but soon both Russian and Byzantine theologians reacted strongly, and, in various synods and confessions of faith, the Orthodox rejected Protestant errors.

Cyril Lucaris. Of the theologians sympathetic to Protestantism, Cyril Lucaris was the most influential. Born in 1572 on the island of Crete, Cyril studied at Padua and Venice where he became proficient in Latin and Italian. Meletius Pigas in 1584 sent him to the Ukraine where he took part in the Council of Brest. He became patriarch of Alexandria in 1601 and held this office until 1620. In various letters to Calvinists he showed his sympathy toward their doctrine, especially in the matter of the Eucharist, free will, and justification. He was elected patriarch of Constantinople in 1620, a dignity he held on and off six different times, until, by order of the Turkish ruler, he was drowned in the sea.

In violation of the traditional teaching of the Orthodox Church, his Confession (1629, augmented 1633) accepts Calvinistic teaching: Holy Scripture is the only rule of faith (art. 2); justification comes by faith alone (art. 13); free will is abolished (art. 14); predestination is presented according to the teaching of Calvin (art. 3); consequently a false concept of the Church is taught (art. 11). He admitted only two Sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, and believed that Christ is present only at the time of Holy Communion (arts. 15, 17). He rejected purgatory (art. 18), the cult of images (q. 4), and the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament (q. 3). Some Orthodox, such as Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, claimed that Cyril was not the author of the Confession. But his correspondence with Calvinist theologians demonstrates his sympathies toward their doctrines, and an extant autographed codex leaves little doubt that Cyril Lucaris was its author.

Lucaris gave the impetus to other Orthodox theologians who openly proclaimed their Protestant teachings. Theophilus Corydalleos, Zacharias Gerganos, Joannes Caryophyllos, Maximus Callipolita, and metrophanes critopoulos all followed this example. Critopoulos was a pupil of Lucaris, who sent him to universities in England, Germany, and Switzerland. In his travels he strove to bring about a union of Orthodox and Protestants. On his return to Greece he was created patriarch of Alexandria and abstained from manifesting Protestant tendencies. He even took part in the Synod of Jassy (1642), which condemned the Confession of Lucaris. His adherence to Protestantism is clear, however, from his Confession of Faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Oriental Church, composed in Helmstadt in 1624 but printed only in 1661. There has been much discussion about the Confession. A. Palmieri maintains that it is a clear expression of Lutheran faith; others, with I. Mihalcescu, concede that in some points Critopoulos deviated from common Orthodox opinion. Finally there are those who hold it as one of the chief symbols of Orthodox faith and quite genuinely in keeping with the Byzantine theological tradition.

A synod held in 1925 on Mt. Athos vindicated Critopoulos and his Confession. Yet an influence from Protestant theology cannot be denied, e.g., in his definition of the Church, in his treatment of the Sacraments, in his accepting only three (Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance), and in his rejection of the deuterocanonical books. Critopoulos's Confession is valued highly by contemporary Greek theologians who accept his Protestant opinions and his arguments against Roman Catholicism concerning the filioque, the Immaculate Conception, and the Roman primacy. They favor the mystical concept of the Church, which is derived mostly from Protestant sources.

Polemicists. A chief characteristic of Greek theology in the 17th century was the role played by polemical writings against both Catholics and Protestants. Meletius Syrigos (d. 1667) had studied both at Padua and Venice and was commissioned by Parthenios I, Patriarch of Constantinople, to correct the Confession of Peter moghila and translate it into modern Greek. It was his corrected version that was accepted as a confession of faith for all the Orthodox in the Council of Jassy (Romania) in 1642. Moghila had protested the changes made in his original Latin text by Syrigos, and the Greek text was not edited until 1667, after the death of Moghila. D. Balanos claims that the original Confession of Moghila was a compendium of the Catholic Catechism of St. Peter canisius. But Syrigos removed most of the Tridentine doctrine found in the original text and brought it into closer harmony with the Greek thinking of his day. His chief theological work was a polemical monograph against Calvinist doctrine: Orthodox Refutation of the Chapters and Questions of the Confession of Cyril Lukaris. Except for the chapter concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit, most of this work is consonant with Catholic theology. Both Greek and Latin Fathers as well as Scripture are quoted frequently.

Dositheus of Jerusalem. Syrigos was employed by Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 1707), one of the leading Byzantine figures in the polemics against non-Orthodox groups. His own Confession proved of great importance in checking Protestant infiltration into Orthodoxy when it was accepted at a synod in Jerusalem (1672) by all the Orthodox patriarchs. More intent on fighting Calvinistic errors than Latin Catholicism, Dositheus demonstrated his dependence on Latin theology, not only in the opinions expressed but even in terminology, particularly in the theology of the Sacraments where words never before used by Byzantine theologians, such as confirmation, satisfaction, and transubstantiation, were introduced into Greek theology. As expressed in the Confession, his doctrine on free will and predestination (decrees 3, 14), on justification and good works (decree 13), and on the seven Sacraments (decree 15) is in perfect harmony with the teaching of the Council of Trent. He did not use the word purgatory, yet he holds a third state between heaven and hell that would correspond to Catholic teaching on purgatory. Dositheus is the author of An Enchiridion against the Errors of Calvinism (Bucharest 1690); he established a printing press at Jassy, Rumania, to spread the polemical works of both earlier and contemporary Byzantine writers against Calvinism and the Roman Church.

Other theologians include George Coressios (d. 1641), who studied medicine in Pisa and returned to Greece to write polemical tracts against both the Protestants and the Catholics; and Paisy Ligarides (d. 1678), who embraced Catholicism as a boy in Rome but later left the Church to become a sharp controversialist against Protestant and Catholic theological doctrine. Nectar, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 1676), wrote a tract Concerning the Primacy of the Pope, which Dositheus printed at Jassy. The two Lichudes brothers, Joannes (d. 1717) and Sophronius (d. 1730), both studied in Venice and Padua. Dositheus sent them as instructors to the seminary of Moscow where they wrote polemical tracts attacking the theological school of Kiev for its Catholic tendencies. Sevastus Kymenites (d. 1702), Elias Meniates (d. 1714), and Nicolaus Kerameos (d. 1672) must also be listed among the polemicists of this period.

Catholic Sympathizers. Amidst so many Greek theologians dedicated to polemics, a few with Catholic sympathies wrote works that never became popular. Agapius Landos, with his ascetical writings printed at Venice, was the most esteemed of this group. Among his writings are: Salvation of Sinners and New Paradise (lives of the saints taken from Symeon Metaphrastes), and Eklogion and New Eklogion (more selected lives of the saints). Gregorius of Chios published a compendium of the Divine and Sacred Dogmas of the Church (Venice 1635). Nicolaus Kursulas (d. 1652), an alumnus of St. Athanasius Greek College founded in Rome by Pope Gregory XIII to bring about concord between the West and East, wrote a Synopsis of Sacred Theology using the scholastic method and permeated by a Catholic mentality. Nicolaus the Bulgar studied in Padua and edited his Sacred Catechism (Venice 1681), which has been used by more recent Greeks in an effort to correct errors in later Orthodox speculation.

Two outstanding Byzantinists, also alumni of St. Athanasius College, Rome, were Peter Arcudius (d. 1633) and Leo Allatius (d. 1669), who held various offices in the Vatican and used their Oriental background in the service of the Church. Arcudius was mainly responsible for effecting the union of Brest while Allatius collected innumerable Greek and Syrian manuscripts under Pope Gregory XV, thus preserving in the Vatican Library an important Eastern heritage that otherwise would have been lost.

Third Period: 1723 to 1833. The nadir of modern Greek theology, the period from 1723 to 1833 was typified by an increase in theological compendia, polemical writings against Roman Catholics, and synopses of Byzantine spirituality. In the 18th century many Christians of the Antiochene patriarchate united with Rome and constituted the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Hatred against Catholics mounted. In 1755 the Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril V declared Baptism by infusion, as administered by the Latins, invalid. The chief theologian of the period was Eugenius the Bulgar, even though he showed no great talent. His main writing, a theological compendium called Theologikon, was printed in Venice in 1872. Other authors who collected the past theological traditions into compendia were Vincent Damodos (d. 1752), Antonius Moschopoulos (d. 1788), Joannes Kontones (d. 1761), and Theophilus Papaphilos (d. c. 1785).

The chief compiler of Byzantine spiritual writings was Nicodemus, the Hagiorite of Mr. Athos (d. 1809). Together with Agapius Leonardos he compiled The Pedalion (Rudder), which today is the most famous Byzantine collection of commonly accepted (in the Greek-Slavic Churches) canons from ancient ecumenical or local councils. The two authors also provided commentaries on the canons. But Nicodemus is more popularly known as the editor of the Philokalia, a five-volume collection of ascetical writings, drawn mostly from the spiritual writers of the Hesychastic tradition. This was first printed in Venice in 1782; a third edition was printed in Athens in 1957.

Fourth Period: 1833 to 1923. There followed a period chiefly of eclecticism. Political freedom had been won in 1833, and the Greeks were able to form their own nation. This brought them freedom to have their own universities and faculties of theology. The University of Athens' theology faculty was founded in 1837. Theology in the other Orthodox patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria was practically nonexistent, due again to Muslim oppression. The theology that did develop in the newly liberated Greece was not very original but came under the influence of three principal sources: some theologians favored positions held by Protestant theologians; others, those of Catholics; while a third group became followers of the more creative Russian theologians, especially of the Khomiakovian school. Thus their eclecticism brought about many diverging opinions. Meanwhile, from 1867 onward, many sought reunion with the Anglicans.

Count Protasov. In 1833 Greece won autocephaly for its own Church and took as its model the independent Church in Russia. Protestantism had been spreading, but, recognizing the possibility of having its own theology schools, the Greek Church, like the Russian Church under Count Protasov, the procurator of the Holy Synod of Moscow, began to react against the infiltration of Protestant thinking in Orthodox theology. In 1836 Patriarch Gregorios VI of Constantinople issued an encyclical in which he condemned the errors of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and followers. The Greek Orthodox faithful were forbidden to read Protestant books and, above all, to read the Protestant versions of the Holy Scripture.

Encyclical of the Four Patriarchs. A document that exacerbated relations with the Catholics was the Encyclical of the Four Patriarchs of 1848. On Jan. 6, 1848, pius ix in his encyclical In Suprema Petri Apostoli Sede had addressed himself to the Orientals, inviting them to reunion with the Roman Church. In May 1848 the four chief Greek-speaking Orthodox patriarchs, Anthimus VI of Constantinople, Hierotheus II of Alexandria, Methodius of Antioch, and Cyril II of Jerusalem, along with 29 metropolitans, signed the Encyclical of the Four Patriarchs. The author of this document was Constantius I, Patriarch of Constantinople, who several years before (1834) had written an anti-Latin document as M. Popescu has shown. The contents of this encyclical summarized all the main points of the polemical literature of the prior centuries. Papism is claimed as a heresy that embraces several errors: that expressed by the word filioque; Baptism by aspersion; the defect of an epiclesis; Communion under one species; and the use of unleavened bread. The chief difficulty was the confusion of religious with civil power, which the Roman pontiffs abused by imposing an intolerable yoke on others. Thus the encyclical appeared more as a violent diatribe against the Roman pontiff than an answer to Plus IX.

Another document that became the source of authority for polemical writers of the period was the Encyclical of Anthimus VII. Pope Leo XIII, who was respected by many Orthodox for his zeal in promoting unity, sent to the Orientals his encyclical Praeclara gratulationis (June 20, 1894). Anthimus VII, Patriarch of Constantinople, answered at the end of 1894 with a long list of denunciations against the innovations of Latin Catholics. The list repeated the charges of the former 1848 Orthodoxy encyclical and added an attack on the idea of the fire of purgatory, immediate retribution, the newly defined dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854), and that of the primacy of the pope and his infallibility, which had been declared dogma in the Vatican Council of 1870.

Theological Compendia. Russian theologians at this time excelled in theological manuals, and many of these were translated into Greek and used by the Greek Faculties. Popular Russian compendia that had great use in Greece included that of Antony Amphiteatrov, rector of the Academy of Kiev, Dogmatic Theology of the Eastern Catholic Church (Kiev 1848), and that of Macarius Bulgakov, Introduction to Orthodox Theology (St. Petersburg 1847). It was not long, however, before the Greek theologians were producing their own compendia. Nicolaus Damalas, Zikos Rhosis, Crestos Andrutsos, K. J. Dyovuniotis, D. S. Balanos, I. Mesoloras, Nectarios Kephalas, and Nicolaus Ambrazis all made useful compendia for use in Greek-speaking seminaries.

Meanwhile, during this period internecine controversies arose among the Greeks concerning the relation of the newly liberated Church and State in Greece and the primacy of the patriarch of Constantinople in ruling this Church. The Greek Orthodox divided into two factions: those, led by Theoclitus Pharmakides (d. 1860), who favored full ecclesiastical autonomy and autocephaly rendering the Church subject to the State in all that pertained to external administration and jurisdiction; the others, led by Constantinus Economos (d. 1857), who favored complete independence of the State and submission in all Church jurisdiction to the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. These two factions quarreled among themselves concerning the use of Protestant Bibles. In 1823 Protestant Bible societies began to disseminate Bibles printed in the modern Greek tongue. Pharmakides and Neophyte Vamvas (d. 1855) upheld the usefulness of these versions, while Economos argued theologically that the Protestant translations from the Hebrew had many discrepancies from that of the Septuagint, which alone he held to be infallible.

Theosevia. A new religion appeared in Greece about this time, a mystical rationalism promulgated by Theophilus Kairis (d. 1853). It was a type of the Modernism later condemned in the West by Pius X. The Synod of Greece condemned this so-called Theosevia religion as heretical, and Kairis was expelled in 1841. He returned only to be imprisoned by the state and soon died.

Theological journals began to appear as a greater spirit of creative speculation awoke among the Greek theologians. The Constantinople patriarchate published Ekklesiastike Aletheia ("Church Truth"), which was suppressed in 1923 when the majority of Greeks emigrated from Turkey. It was replaced by Orthodoxia in 1925 and Apostolos Andreas, the latter being the official voice of the ecumenical patriarch; but it printed theological articles also. Both of these periodicals were suppressed in 1964 by the Turkish government. Holy Cross Seminary in Jerusalem prints Nea Sion; the former Ekklesiastikos Pharos by the Alexandrian Patriarchate has been replaced by Pantaios.

Fifth Period: 1923 to the Ecumenical Movement. The modern era witnessed a renaissance in Greek theology. Under the inspiration of two leading archbishops of Athens, Meletius Mataxakis and Papadopoulos, theological studies and learning among the clergy and laity were fostered. Yet much of this modern Greek theological literature displays certain common defects. The majority of the older professors studied abroad, particularly in Germany. They mastered the critical techniques of the German schools of theology of the latter part of the 19th century, but because of nationalistic circumstances they had little contact with the more relevant theology developed in the 20th century among the Russian Orthodox émigrés and the Western Catholic world. They produced a theology almost wholly academic, confined to manuals and bearing little relation either to the spiritual contempory world or to the patristic tradition of the past.

Contemporary Development. Paradoxically, in the 1950s and early 1960s the professors of the two leading theological faculties in Greece were almost exclusively laymen. They included Chrestos Androutsos, P. N. Trembelas, P. I. Bratsiotis, A. Alivisatos, B. Vellas, I. N. Karmiris, B. Joannides, C. Bonis, G. Konidaris, and Archimandrite Jerome Kotsonis, all of whom taught in the theological faculties of the universities of Athens and Salonika, and produced many serious theological writings.

A suspicion grew among the monks and pastors of souls as well as among the members of new movements such as Zoe (Life), Aktines (Action), and the two Apostoliki Diakonia (Apostolic Services) of Athens and Salonika, that this academic theology was irrelevant for confronting the materialism of modern Greece. A gradual change became noticeable among these Greek theologians, especially with the impetus received from the Zoe movement, also known as the "Brotherhood of Theologians." This was started by Father Eusebius Matthopoulos in 1907 as a semimonastic order whose members remain celibate but take no formal vows. A quarter of the brothers are monks, the rest are laymen. Through their teaching of theology in the two faculties of Greece and in their innumerable printed works, they are making theology less academic and more Biblical, liturgical, and relevant for modern men in a rapidly changing society.

Ecumenical Interests. Active participation in the various ecumenical discussions launched throughout Europe in the 20th century, especially in the World Council of Churches from the very first assembly of 1948 in Amsterdam, brought closer contact with Protestants and Roman Catholics. Greek theologians sought to emerge from the national narrowness in an attempt to understand forms of Christianity other than their own. The late 20th century witnessed in Greek theology a flexible approach to theology, a return to the Bible, the Eastern liturgies, and the writings of the early Fathers. The new Greek theology aimed for relevance to the modern Christian developments.

Bibliography: c. androutsos, Dogmatic Theology of the Orthodox Eastern Church (2d ed. Athens 1956), in Greek. h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959). p. i. bratsiotis, "Greek Theology in the Last 50 Years," Theologia 19 (194148) 83112, 27186, in Greek; ed., Die orthodoxe Kirche in griechischer Sicht, 2 v. (Stuttgart 195960). f. gavin, Some Aspects of Contemporary Greek Thought (Milwaukee 1923). m. jugie, Theologia dogmatica christianorum orientalium ab ecclesia catholica dissidentium, 5 v. (Paris 192635) v.1. e. s. kimmel, Monumenta fidei ecclesiae orientalis, 2 v. (Jena 1850). k. krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Literatur (Munich 1890; 2d ed. 1897). a. palmieri, Theologia dogmatica orthodoxa, 2 v. (Florence 191113). d. savramis, ed., Aus der neugriechischen Theologie (Das östliche Christentum, Neue Folge 15; Würzburg 1961).

[g. a. maloney]

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