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Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: The Experience of God, Vol. 1: Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God Paperback – October 1, 2000
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Fr. Dumitru Staniloae seeks always to indicate the inner coherence of dogmatic truth and the significance of each dogma for the personal life of the Christian. It is the theologian's task to make manifest the link between dogma and personal spirituality, to show how every dogma responds to a deep need and longing in the human heart, and how it has practical consequences for society. Dogmas, he is convinced, do not enslave but liberate; theology is essentially freedom. --Kallistos Ware
About the Author
Fr. Dumitru Staniloae (1903-93) is widely considered as one of the greatest Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century. He was Professor of Dogmatics at the Theological Institute in Bucharest, Romania, from 1947 to 1973.
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Staniloae speaks of both apophatic and cataphatic knowledge of God as essential for the life of the Church, but importantly makes a distinction between two sorts of apophatic knowledge. On the one hand, there is strict apophatic theology. God cannot be known in His essence, so we do not predicate properties of the essence. On the other hand, there is a "less strict" apophatic theology, which refers to the energies. We do share in the uncreated energies through the Spirit, and we therefore predicate names of them. God is loving, holy, just, merciful, and so on. Yet the Church apophatically qualifies this by affirming that one's personal experience of these energies altogether transcends the linguistic symbols with which we describe them. This distinction between two sorts of apophatic theology was helpful for me personally in understanding the different ways in which this term is used in the Saints and Fathers.
The most illuminating part of the book was the two chapters on the attributes of God. Staniloae asks what we mean when we say that God transcends space and time. He makes the important point that to say God is "timeless" is not a positive attribute. Instead, it is to say that God transcends time. However, the possibility of space and time exist in and only in the Trinity. Time is a created reality designed to allow for a development in communion. God extends His love to us, and He awaits our response. We extend love to other persons, and we await a response from these persons. To enter into God's eternity means that an extension of love and the reciprocation of that love occur at the same moment. This is true in the Trinitarian Godhead, it is true of the angels, and it will be true of us in the eschaton. Staniloae here makes an important contribution to the discussion of God and time. As regards His essence, God altogether transcends time. As regards the divine energies, however, God does enter into the experience of time, even before the incarnation. Thus, a tensed theory of time is reconciled with God's timelessness.
Space is likewise a boundary to be overcome in communion, but it is overcome in a different fashion. Whereas time is, in one sense, eradicated in the eschaton, space is overcome by its relativization. Since man is a microcosm, man is capable of extending his energies in all directions. This is what will occur in the eschaton, when man, through His participation in the divine life, extends himself throughout all space so that he is capable of energizing at any distance with respect to any point. The singular human nature is realized in a multiplicity of hypostases energizing in common throughout all space. Ultimately, this is grounded in the reality of the Trinitarian God. A nature can only be realized in communion, since natures never exist in the abstract, but only in hypostases. However, hypostases are only realized as the irreducible distinct realities which they are when they are in communion with another of like nature, since only then can what is proper to hypostasis and what is proper to nature be distinguished. Hence, God exists in and only in Trinity, and the nature of the human person impels him towards communion with other persons and with the God in whose Image he is made.
This is simply amazing. I've only scratched the surface of what Staniloae discusses here. One warning, however: this is not for beginners. Only work through these books if you have a working knowledge of Orthodox theology. If you do, then buy immediately. You will not regret