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Georges Florovsky

Ways of Russian Theology



On August 11, 1979 Fr. Georges Vasil'evich Florovsky, one of the more influential of twentieth century theologians and historians of Christianity, died. With his death a part of our scholarly world also dies. The scholarly world finds itself in a rather unusual situation. Unlike other renowned writers who, upon their death, have already shared their best works with their contemporaries, only posthumously are Fr. Florovsky's greatest works being published in English - Ways of Russian Theology (in two volumes), The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century, and The Byzantine Fathers from the Fifth to the Eighth Centuries. One pauses with wonder when one realizes that  Fr. Florovsky was so influential without these works having been  published in a western language.

Fr. Georges Florovsky was born in Odessa in 1893. He was the beneficiary of that vibrant Russian educational experience, which flourished toward the end of the nineteenth century and produced many gifted scholars. The revolution aborted this rich, growing  tradition. As a result of the revolution, trained Russian scholars became a part of the Russian emigration in Western Europe and in the United States. A tragic deprivation for Russia became a gift to western culture. One could perhaps compare the flight of Russian scholars to Western Europe and the United States and their concomitant influence with the flight and influence of Byzantine scholars in the fifteenth century. In both cases the western scholarly world was surprised at the high level of learning in both Russia and Byzantium.

Fr. Florovsky personified the cultivated, well-educated Russian of the turn of the century. His penetrating mind grasped both the detail and depth in the unfolding drama of the history of Christianity  in both eastern and western forms. He was theologian, church historian, patristic scholar, philosopher, and Slavist. And he handled all these areas exceptionally well. As theologian he wrote brilliantly on the subjects -inter alia- of creation, divine energies, and redemption. As church historian he wrote on personalities and intellectual movements  from all twenty centuries. As patristic scholar he wrote two volumes  on the eastern and Byzantine fathers. As philosopher he wrote exceptionally well -inter alia- on the problem of evil and on the influence of ancient Greek philosophy on patristic thought as well as on the influence of German philosophy on Russian thought. As Slavist there was virtually no area of Russian life that he had not at some point analyzed.

Many western churchmen found him a positive challenge. Others found him intimidating, for here was one who possessed something similiar to encyclopaedic knowledge. Here was one who had the ability to analyze with insight. Here was a voice from the Christian east capable of putting theological discussion, long bogged down in the west by reformation and counter-reformation polemics, on a new theological level with perceptive analyses of forgotten thought from the early centuries of the history of the Church. Fr.. Florovsky became the spokesman for what he termed the "new patristic synthesis"; that is, one must return to patristic thought for a point of departure; church history ought not - from this perspective - be analyzed through the thought patterns of the reformation or of the Council of Trent or through the thought structure of Thomas Aquinas: one must return to the earliest life of the church, to that living church which existed before the written testimony of the New Testament and which ultimately determined the canon of our New Testament - the church of the fathers. That Fr. Florovsky influenced contemporary church historians is obvious. It is noteworthy that the best contemporary multi-volume history of the church pays a special tribute to Fr. Florovsky. Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale University, in the bibliographic section to his first volume in The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, writes under reference to Fr. Florovsky's two volumes (in Russian) on the Church Fathers (The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century and The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth to the Eighth Centuries): "These two works are basic to our interpretation of trinitarian and christological dogmas" (p. 359 from The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition: 100-600). George Huntston Williams, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, wrote: "Faithful priestly son of the Russian Orthodox Church . . . , Fr. Georges Florovsky - with a career-long involvement in the ecumenical dialogue between apostolic patristic Orthodoxy and all the many forms of Christianity in the Old World and the New- is today the most articulate, trenchant and winsome exponent of Orthodox Theology and piety in the scholarly world. He is innovative and creative in the sense wholly of being ever prepared to restate the saving truth of Scripture and Tradition in the idiom of our contemporary yearning for the transcendent . . . "

Fr. Florovsky's professorial career led him from the University of Odessa to Prague, where he taught philosophy from 1922 until 1926. In 1926 he was invited to hold the chair of patrology at St. Sergius' Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. In 1948 Fr. Florovsky accepted the deanship of St. Vladimir's Theological School in New York. Simultaneously he taught at Union Theological School and Columbia University. In 1956 Fr. Florovsky accepted an invitation from Harvard University where he held the chair of Eastern Church History until 1964. While teaching at Harvard University, Fr. Florovsky also taught at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School in Brookline, Massachusetts. From 1964 until his death in 1979 Fr. Florovsky was Visiting Professor at Princeton University. It should be remembered that through all the years and during all the research, Fr. Florovsky was a faithful priest of the Orthodox Church, officiating at the numerous liturgical services, presenting sermons, and acting as a spiritual guide and father confessor. The history of the translation of Ways of Russian Theology could by itself be a separate book. Suffice it to say that more persons had a hand in this project than is obvious, especially in the early years of the project. The work of Andrew Blane and friends was quite significant. In late 1974 I received a personal request from Fr. Florovsky to head the entire project and to bring it to completion. I hesitated until Fr. Florovsky insisted that I assume the general editorship of the project. I agreed. From that time on, the organization of the project began anew. The first step was to compare existing translations.

The second step was taken when Fr. Florovsky insisted that Robert L. Nichols be appointed the new translator. The third step. was to Compare the new translation with the original text. And, finally c. 868 footnotes were added to part One of Ways of Russian Theology. I do not pretend that we have produced a perfect book. There are, I am sure, errors still to be uncovered. But in the main I think the product is "ready," especially in light of the fact that a readership has been awaiting this English translation for approximately forty years.

The footnotes were added for a specific reason. It was thought that there would be two types of readership: theologians who might be unfamiliar with the world of Russian culture in general; and, Slavists who might be unfamiliar with church history and patristics. It was considered unfair to expect Slavists to know Cappadocian theology, just as it was considered unfair to expect a theologian to know the poetry of Tiutchev. It was decided that an index to both volumes would appear only with Part Two of Ways of Russian Theology.  I wish to thank my wife, Vera, for her patience and help. A special debt of gratitude is owed to Fr. Janusz Ihnatowicz of the University of St. Thomas in Houston for his indispensable help in tracing references to Polish personalities. And, of course, without the work of Robert L. Nichols and Paul Kachur this work could not have been completed.

Everyone who has participated in this project would, I think, join in our earnest prayer from the Orthodox service: "With the saints, O Christ, give rest to the soul of thy servant, Fr. Georges, where there is neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting . . . For the ever-memorable servant of God, Fr. Georges, for his repose, tranquility and blessed memory, let us pray to the Lord . . . . That the Lord our God will establish his soul in a place of brightness, a place of verdure, a place of rest, where all the righteous dwell, let us pray to the Lord . . . . O God of all that is spiritual and of all flesh, who hast trampled down Death, and overthrown the Devil, and given life unto thy world, do thou, the same Lord, give rest to the soul of thy departed servant, Fr. Georges, in a place of brightness, a place of verdure, a place of repose, whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away. Pardon every transgression, which he hath committed, whether by word, or deed, or thought. For thou art a good God, and lovest mankind because there is no man who liveth and sinneth not; for thou only art without sin and thy righteousness is to all eternity, and thy word is true . . . . For thou art the Resurrection, and the Life, and the Repose of thy departed servant, Fr. Georges."  

In loving memory Richard S. Haugh Rice University October 31, 1979. 



Over a hundred and sixty years ago, in 1814, Archimandrite Filaret (Drozdov), then a youthful Orthodox reformer and later "ecumenical" metropolitan of Moscow, drew up a charter for the Russian ecclesiastical schools and submitted it to Tsar Alexander I. From that moment can be dated the awakening of modern Russian Orthodox thought. As Filaret told the learned clergy and laity gathered for the occasion, Orthodoxy had been dazzled and diverted by a series of western religious and cultural enthusiasms and now must "show its face in the true spirit of the Apostolic Church." In an important sense, Filaret's summons to recover and proclaim again the faith of the apostles and the Church fathers was answered when Fr. Georges Florovsky's Ways of  Russian Theology appeared in 1937 among the Orthodox emigres in Paris. Or, more accurately, the book represented the culmination of more than a century's effort by Russians, beginning with Filaret, to rediscover their own Orthodox tradition.

Ways of Russian Theology forms an integral part of the attempt to purify Russian Orthodoxy by clarifying its proper relationship to the West. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, the Russian Church found itself intellectually unprepared to deal with the religious and cultural storms bursting in upon it. First came the era of open hostilities between Protestants and Catholics; later came the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Consequently, Orthodoxy absorbed, sometimes unconsciously, western scholasticism, deism, pietism, and idealism, and produced what Fr. Florovsky describes as the "pseudomorphosis" of Russia's authentic religious life derived from Byzantium. Only in the nineteenth century did Russian Orthodoxy seriously undertake to recover its Byzantine heritage and find its way "back to the Fathers " , thereby laying the foundation for Florovsky's later program of  "neo-atristic synthesis,"  a concept he elaborates in his own preface to this book and throughout the study.

Although no one has gone so far as to say about Florovsky what the historian S. M. Solov'ev once said about Filaret ("Every day for lunch he ate two priests and two minnows"), his caustic remarks about prominent figures in Russian history prepared the atmosphere for the cool and critical manner in which the book was received. Ways of Russian Theology was not well reviewed. His colleagues at the St. Sergius Institute in Paris collaborated against him in order to shield the students from his influence. Nicholas Berdiaev wrote a long review in The Way (Put J, the leading Orthodox intellectual journal in the Russian emigration, accusing him of arrogance and speaking as though he were God thundering down mal judgment on those with whom he disagreed. Many at the Institute saw the book as a full scale attack on Russia and its faith. 1  They resented the acerbic remarks about those who he be believed to have surrendered to the West: "Feofan Prokopovich was a dreadful person . . . (He) stands forth not as a westerner, but as a western man, a foreigner . . . (He) viewed the Orthodox world as an outsider and imagined it to be a duplicate of Rome. He simply did not experience Orthodoxy, absorbed as he was in western disputes. In those debates he remained to the end allied with the Protestants." Similarly, Peter Mogila, the great seventeenth century churchman, is described as a "crypto-Roman." "He brought Orthodoxy to what might be called a Latin "pseudomorphosis'." And, in a manner which would inevitably provoke his Parisian associates, Florovsky wrote that ". . .N. A. Berdiaev drank so deeply at the springs of German mysticism and philosophy that he could not break loose from the fatal German circle.. . German mysticism cut him off from the life of the Great Church". Naturally, the book found even fewer friends among the Russian "radicals" in Paris. Paul Miliukov tried to silence the book by refusing to print Professor Bitselli's review in Russian Notes (Russkiia zapiski).

But aside from the polemical style, why the hostility to the book in Orthodox intellectual circles? Because it effectively questioned the historical basis of many of their strongly held theological views. Florovsky quickly emerged as the most authoritative living voice of  Russian Orthodoxy in the West, and he sought to use his position to pose new questions about ecumenicity derived from his reflection on the Russian experience and its Byzantine past. Modern Russian Orthodox ecumenism, if it begins anywhere, begins in Paris with him. Not, of course, only with him, and not only in the 1930s. He had the experience of the preceding century to draw upon. Metropolitan Filaret and the editorial board for the journal The Works of the Holy Fathers in Russian Translation obviously anticipated his appeal for a "return to the Fathers." The Orthodox emigres in Paris were working clergy and laymen trying to acclimate Russian Orthodoxy to the ecumenical challenges of the twentieth century. All worked on the same problems: a re-examination of Russia's religious past, the meaning of the Revolution for Russia and the modern world, and the role of Russian Orthodoxy in the present and future.

But among all those who thus served the Church in exile, Fr. Florovsky stands alone. Others might explore and refine Orthodox thought but Florovsky altered the context in which discussion of the Church's work, meaning, and character must take place. In so doing, he laid the foundation for reconciling the "Eastern and the Oriental" Orthodox Churches. His "asymmetrical" definition of the Chalcedonian formula first appeared in his 1933 lectures on the Byzantine Fathers of the V-VIII Centuries. In Ways of Russian Theology he clarified the short-comings, achievements, and tasks of the Russian Church. And in the next few years he defined the necessary approach Eastern Orthodoxy must take in order to overcome separation from the other Christian confessions. In 1937, at the ecumenical encounters in Athens and Edinburgh, he explained his "neopatristic synthesis" or "re-Hellenization" of Orthodoxy in such a way as to exercise "a profound influence upon the. . ,. (Edinburgh) Conference, presenting the eternal truths of the Catholic Faith so effectively, so winsomely, and so clearly that they commended themselves to men of the most diversified nationalities and religious backgrounds."2  All this, in its essentials, was carried through in a remarkably short period from 1930 until the outbreak of the war.

The war in Europe claimed Ways of Russian Theology as one of its casualties. Nearly the entire stock of the book was destroyed during a bombing raid on Belgrade near which Florovsky had moved to  serve as chaplain and religious teacher to the Russian colony at Bela Crkva. Although copies survived there and elsewhere, the book became somewhat rare. The present translation will, therefore, make this monumental work more readily available by bringing it to the attention of a much larger non-Russian speaking English public. The book's great erudition and compassion deserve the widest possible audience. An English translation has long been overdue.

All translators, if they are to any extent conscious of their work, recognize the disparity between the original they read and the work they produce. On very rare occasions a translator perfectly captures his subject, but far more often he only approximates or suggests the original. This book follows the general rule. Fr. Florovsky's Ways of  Russian Theology is not an easy book to render into English. It is a highly personal and passionate account of Russian religious thought and Russian culture constructed from words, phrases, and thoughts so deeply rooted in the Russian Orthodox tradition that the English translator can only imperfectly convey their rich associations. Consequently, he must settle for something less, and I have tried to retain the vigor and earnestness of the book by writing English prose rather than providing a literal rendition of the Russian text. I do not claim to have succeeded in capturing Fr. Florovsky's style; I only claim an attempt at avoiding the awkwardness of a more precisely literal reproduction. As Edward Fitzgerald once observed: "the live dog better than the dead lion." (Letters, London, 1894).

The translation of Ways of Russian Theology is actually a work of many. In 1975, when I first became part of the project, rough drafts of several chapters and sections of others had already been completed. These drafts included a portion of chapter 2, chapters 3 and 4, sections 1-7 of chapter 5, section 14 of chapter 7, and chapters 8 and 9. When at the request of Fr. Florovsky and Richard Haugh, the general  editor of  this project, I agreed to assume the burden of this project previously carried forward by the earlier group, I extensively revised and in some instances retranslated the chapters already in draft form, and translated the remainder of chapter 5 as well as the preface and chapters 1 , 6, and  7. To all the chapters I added numerous explanatory notes. The general  editor, Richard Haugh, has appended still others. In sum, the translation is a collective enterprise which has taken considerable time to complete, worked on as it has been during summers, holidays, and at other spare moments in working days devoted to teaching, other literary projects, and administrative duties. Of course, I assume full responsibility for any errors in the translation, but the hard, selfless labor of the previous translators must receive full acknowledgement.

One further word about the notes accompanying the text. Those notes designated within brackets as "Author's notes" are of two kinds. One contains material removed from the body of the text, so that it does not interrupt the narrative. Such material is usually, but not always, of a bibliographical character. The other sort provides information taken from the bibliography at the end of the Russian edition. (That full bibliography is not included with this translation. Only a selected bibliography is appended. Readers who wish to use the very extensive Russian bibliography are invited to consult the original 1937 YMCA Press edition.) Where necessary, I have provided a more exact citation to a work (i.e., edition, volume, page, etc.) than that contained in the original. All notes not directly attributed to the author are mine or the editor's. Transliteration has been done following the usage of the Slavic Review. Generally, Russian Christian names are reproduced here, with a few exceptions where the name is well known (e.g. Lev rather than Leo, except for Leo Tolstoy).

Square brackets are used very sparingly in the text to enclose material added by the translator. In bringing the translation of Ways of Russian Theology into print, it is a pleasure to thank all those who helped me with the task. First to Richard and Vera Haugh, who checked the translation against the original and who have showed a cheerful helpfulness throughout the work. Also, to Mrs. Thelma Winter and Mrs. Maryann LoGuidice who patiently typed the manuscript and to Dean William Nelsen and President Sidney Rand of St. Olaf College who provided financial assistance for the typing. Most of all I would like to thank my wife Sharon and my children who often wondered aloud when the job would be done, but never complained when it was not.

Robert L. Nichols

Saint Olaf College Northfield, Minnesota June 1, 1978  

1. Many of the biographical and bibliographical facts about Florovsky used here are drawn from Professor George H. William's admirable essay "Georges Vasilievich Florovsky: His American Career (1948-1965)," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. II, No. 1 (Summer, 1965), 7-107. Concerning the quarrel over the book, Williams follows Alexander Schmemann's suggestion (27-28) that the Institute stood polarized at the time between the majority representing the "Russian" school, "who were reworking the major themes of  Russian nineteenth- century theology and philosophy," and Florovsky with his "programmatic" return to the Fathers in order to repossess `Christian' or `sacred  Hellenism'.

However, the division between "Hellenists" and "Russians" seems over-drawn, for we are actually dealing with at least two trends in modern Russian theology. One directly continued the themes of the Slavophiles, Vladimir Solov'ev, and the Russian "idea"-the theme of Russia's universalizing response to western humanism. (Florovsky directly challenges this school in the final chapter of the book, where he asks why Russia's culture is punctuated with discontinuities and replies that Russia's "universal responsiveness" is "fatal" and "ambiguous".) The other  trend, while by no means indifferent to the first, stressed the need to recover "genuine" Orthodox tradition-a major nineteenth century theme centering particularly in the Moscow Theological Academy. It would be more correct to speak of two emphases within Russia's recent theological past which continued to grow and flourish even in emigration after 1917 rather than speak of two groups, only one of which dwelled on the major themes of nineteenth century Russian theology and philosophy. Even Berdiaev, who admonished Florovsky for preferring an abstract and inhuman Byzantinism to Russia's higher spirituality, ends his review by linking Florovsky to nineteenth century Russian themes. See Put', No. 53 (April-July, 1937), 5 3-75.

2. "Role of Honour," (Editorial), The Living Church (New York and Milwaukee), Vol. 98, 1 (January 5, 1938), 1 f. as quoted in Williams, op. cit., 38.



This book was conceived as an experiment in historical synthesis, as an experiment in the history of Russian thought. Preceding the synthesis, as long ago as the days of my youth, came years of analysis, many years of slow reading and reflection. For me the past fate of Russian theology was always the history of a creative contemporaneity in which I had to find myself. Historical impartiality is not violated in this way. Impartiality is not non-participation. It is  not indifference nor a refusal to make an evaluation. History explains events, discloses their meaning and significance. The historian must never forget that he studies and describes the creative tragedy of human life. He must not, for he cannot. Unbiased history has never existed and never will.

Studying the Russian past led me to the conviction and strengthened me in it that in our day the Orthodox theologian can only find for himself the true measure and living source of creative inspiration in patristic tradition. I am convinced the intellectual break from patristics and Byzantinism was the chief cause for all the interruptions and failures in Russia's development. The history of these failures is told in this book. All the genuine achievements of Russian theology were always linked with a creative return to patristic sources. That this narrow path of patristic theology is the sole true way is revealed with particular clarity in historical perspective. Yet the return to the fathers must not be solely intellectual or historical, it must be a return in spirit and prayer, a living and creative self-restoration to the fullness of the Church in the entirety of sacred tradition.

We are granted to live in an age of theological awakening bespoken throughout the divided Christian world. It is time to reexamine and recall with great attention all the sometimes cruel, sometimes inspired lessons and testaments of the past. But a genuine awakening can only begin when not only the answers but the questions are heard in the past and in the future. The inexhaustible power of patristic tradition in theology is defined still more by the fact that theology was a matter of life for the holy fathers, a spiritual quest (podvig), a confession of faith, a creative resolution of living tasks.  The ancient books were always inspired with this creative spirit. Healthy theological sensitivity, without which the sought-for Orthodox awakening will not come, can only be restored in our ecclesiastical society through a return to the fathers. In our day theological confessionalism acquires special importance among the Church's labors as the inclusion of the mind and will within the Church, as a living entry of truth into the mind. Vos exemplaria graeca nocturna versate diurrna. Orthodoxy is once again revealed in patristic exegesis as a conquering power, as the power giving rebirth and affirmation to life, not only as a way station for tired and disillusioned souls; not only as the end but as the beginning, the beginning of a quest and creativity, a "new creature."

In finishing the book, I recall with gratitude all those who by example or counsel, by books and inquiries, by objection, sympathy or reproach helped and help me in my work. I gratefully remember the libraries and repositories whose hospitality I enjoyed during the long years of my studies. Here I must mention one name dear to me, the late P. I. Novgorodtsev, an image of truthfulness who will never die in my heart's memory. I am indebted to him more than can possibly be expressed in words. "True instruction was in his mouth." (Malachi, 2:6).