“The Orthodox Contribution to the Ecumenical Discussion on the Church”: An Unpublished Lecture Series by Fr. Georges Florovsky
Fr. Georges Florovsky (1893-1979) rose to international prominence as an Orthodox theologian at a time when there was great interest in Eastern Orthodoxy but exceedingly few resources to learn about the topic in Western languages. Florovsky’s work filled a tremendous void, introducing countless numbers of Western Christians to the history, theology, and liturgical life of the Orthodox Church.
As a professor for some 50 years at institutions including St. Serge, St. Vladimir’s, Holy Cross, Harvard Divinity School, Princeton University, and Princeton Theological Seminary, and as the leading Orthodox voice in the nascent ecumenical movement of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Fr. Florovsky travelled the world, delivering lectures, preaching in churches, and leading retreats for youth.
Many recordings, written notes, lecture outlines, and even complete transcripts of Fr. Florovsky’s lectures exist, especially in the archives of his papers at Princeton University and also in the collection of Florovsky-related material assembled by his biographer, Dr. Andrew Blane. The present set of lecture notes comes from the personal collection of Dr. Blane and is published here for the very first time with the permission of the collection’s curator, Fr. Matthew Baker.
“The Orthodox Contribution to the Ecumenical Discussion on the Church” is a précis of Fr. Florovsky’s lectures in 1956 at the Ecumenical Institute at the Château de Bossey in Switzerland, an international research and teaching institution associated with the World Council of Churches.
The value of this short outline is its concision. All of Fr. Florovsky’s points are developed at length in his major ecclesiological essays, several of which are mentioned in the bibliography at the end of the lecture notes. Thus, we do not find any great new discovery in this small text, but rather a helpful introduction and pointed distillation of Fr. Florovsky’s ecclesiological thinking, which has proven decisive for Orthodox theology ever since.
ECUMENICAL INSTITUTE – BOSSEY near CELIGNY, SWITZERLAND
COURSE FOR THEOLOGICAL STUDENTS
4th – 24th August, 1956
The Orthodox Contribution to
the Ecumenical discussion on the Church
Outlines of the lectures
of Professor G. Florovsky
1. The Orthodox Church can be properly described as “The Church of Tradition.” On the one hand, the Church abides by Tradition, i.e., by a continuous unfolding of the initial or original “Apostolic” deposit. On the other hand, in the ecumenical conversation, the Orthodox Church bears witness to the integral experience and mind of the Ancient and “undivided” Church. Her voice is, in this sense, the voice of Christian Antiquity. This secures for the Orthodox a distinctive position in the Ecumenical Movement and determines their peculiar function in the Christian commonwealth.
2. Tradition is first of all a continuous stream of Christian existence, which finds various expressions in different areas or spheres of Christian life. According to St. Irenaeus, tradition is a depositum juvenescens, an ever living deposit. It is both a principle of preservation (“identity”) and a principle of development (or growth, – “a levain“). The true “Apostolicity” of the Church is manifested in her Tradition and in her “traditionalism.”
3. The Church is supposed to “grow” in history, till a “fulness” has been achieved. The seed must disclose itself into a tree, but the tree is to be rooted in the rock. Tradition is both a “rock” and a “tree,” paradoxical as this combination may seem. Christian history therefore is an integral element of Christian existence. One should not limit the Christian “universe of discourse” to any particular epoch of history, and yet all epochs have their proper relevance in all fields of Christian life. Subtraction of any epoch would mean an impoverishment of Christian existence. Yet, history is not infallible, and growth may turn wild.
4. Catholicity is the main characteristic of the Church. She is “catholic” by nature. The primary meaning of the term was qualitative: “catholicity” meant first of all integrity of life, completeness and comprehensiveness, togetherness and inner concord. Not only the Church as a whole is “catholic,’ but she is catholic in all her parts and members. This is implied in the imagery used in the New Testament to describe the Church, especially in the image of the “Body.”
5. “Christ is the Ego of the Church” (Karl Adam). Christ is ever active in the Church, through the Holy Spirit. His presence is “sacramental,” but “real” and effective. The Church is “in Christ,” and Christ is “in the Church,” which is his “body,” i.e. the sphere of His redeeming action through the ages.
6. The Church cannot be divided, as Christ is never divided. But both individuals and groups can “go astray,” and fail to abide in the “fulness.” Membership in the Church is constituted by an active and faithful sharing of the “fulness.” Church is ever One and “Undivided,” but there are “schisms” in the Christendom. The main paradox of the “Divided Christendom” is that there are “separated Christians,” which are in a sense “outside of the Church” and yet are still intimately, and, in a varying measure, effectively related to Her. This paradox is the proper subject of what has been described as a “Theology of the abnormal.”
7. There is no authoritative doctrine of the Church. It can be said that Ecclesiology is still in a “pre-theological” phase of its formation (still im Werden). A certain variety of presentation and interpretation of the “fact” or being of the Church is not only permissible but simply unavoidable. But all interpretations must be controlled not only by a loyalty to “the letter,” but rather “the Spirit,” i.e. to the fulness of the charismatic experience of the Church through ages. In the sense the Church is infallible, i.e. at all times she has a spiritual authority of witnessing and proclaiming.
8. It may be said that Ecclesiology is an “extended Christology.” Therefore, it stands under the sign of Chalcedon. The “Chalcedonense” is, and must be, the guiding and controlling principle of the ecclesiological discussion.
9. Is the participation of the Orthodox in the Ecumenical Movement consistent with their principles and contentions? The answer depends upon our conception of the nature and aim of the Ecumenical endeavor.
For further development of the views submitted in the lectures one may consult the following articles by the lecturer:
Le Corps vivant du Christ – in “La Sainte Église Universelle,” Neuchatel 1948.
Sobornost, The Catholicity of the Church – in The Church of God, ed. by E. Mascall.
Des Vaters Haus, – in “Una Sancta,” Spezialheft “Ostkirche,” 1926.
Christ and His Church – in “L’Église et les Églises,” Chevetegne, t. II, 1955.
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