Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues to discuss the common experience of the Church in the eighth chapter of The Compassion of the Father on language. The Church is the divine-human body of Christ and temple of the Spirit. As Saint Irenaeus wrote, while languages differ, “the content of the tradition is one and the same” (140) and we can neither add to or subtract from it. However, “the Fathers greatly reserve investigation into the mysteries;” (141) instead, as Saint Hilary of Poitiers tells us, it is the heretics attempt to speak that which is unlawful and thereby force the Fathers to respond to them and this involved them in a necessary tension and even a suffering.
Father Boris then proceeds to discuss the pitfalls of theology. The first of these involves relativising words:
When there is a break between reason and the faith, words run the risk of acquiring a mere relative value. That struck me when Fr Yves Congar – a great Dominican cardinal and one of those most involved in finding a solution to the problem of the filioque declared in 1981 (at the sixteenth centenary of the Second Ecumenical Council) that we are united in praise, adoration, doxology, and silence, but that our “dogmatic formulations are nothing but pious approximations of human language that do not affect the divinity.” Given the divine-human quality of theological language and of the Church, such a view is unacceptable to Orthodox Christians. The fear of dogmatism runs the risk of causing a rejection of dogmas. (143)
The opposite danger is that of seeing dogmatic formulations as totally adequate to the mysteries and
This theological and scholastic rationalism parches the heart; the Fathers since the fourth century, have never ceased to fight against it and insist on the ineffable mystery of God. (143)
In contrast to both of these extremes,
Christian theology has an existential, even soteriological task: to defend the faith, to shape adequate concepts, to expand the natural mind through the waters of baptism, and to lift this natural mind in the ascending movement of the entire Church to the level of revelation, making it partake of the knowledge of God. (143)
Conciliar definitions are “at once something acquired forever” and also “markers and stages of reflection that must not be closed.” (143) In this, minute details can make a world of difference. We see something of this sensitivity in Saint Basil’s search for a middle ground between rejecting heresy and “prudence with respect to words hallowed at the Council of Nicaea.” (144) Likewise, the West’s (and in particular Saint Jerome’s) opposition to the use of the word “hypostasis” rests on an inability to understand a word that would acquire a new meaning.
Theological language is ultimately language that leads to communion with God,
of eternal concelebrating in which the human being by the divine humanity of Christ and the Pentecost of the Spirit, is invited to enter. We are invited to penetrate into this mysterious and inaccessible enclosure through the Ascension and the Resurrection, which are also a resurrection and an ascent of our intelligence, of our entire being. … The mystery of Christ, true God and true man, in whom are hidden the treasures of the divinity, is the key to the trinitarian mystery, of which He is the revelation, in the breath of the Holy Spirit. The Christian language is simultaneously and pre-eminently liturgical and theological, as it expresses and formulates the common spiritual experience of the Church – always an experience of holiness and of ineffable life – and it raises us towards the silence of communion. We are then in the image of the disciples of Emmaus who first heard the Lord speak but who understood only at the breaking of the bread, when the Lord disappeared from their eyes, and they found themselves in the silence of communion. This theological language, which has numerous verbal consonances, full of imagery and of great beauty, is the silence of vision, of the union. (146-147)