Andrew Louth


For some time I have been wanting to put together the links for the series of lectures that Father Andrew Louth gave at the Amsterdam Centre for Eastern Orthodox Theology entitled “Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Personal Introduction.”  These lectures are supposed to be forming the basis of a book that Father Andrew is going to publish and form an excellent introduction to the Orthodox approach to theology.

1. Thinking and doing, being and praying: where do we start?
2. Who is God? The doctrine of the Holy Trinity; apophatic theology.
3. The Doctrine of Creation
4. What went wrong? Sin and death.
5. Who is Christ? The life of Christ; the Paschal mystery; the doctrine of Christology.
6. Being Human – Being in the Image of God – Becoming God.
7. Sacraments and Icons – the place of matter in the divine economy.
8. Time and the Liturgy.

The last lecture on “Where are we going? The Last Things and Eternal Life” doesn’t seem to be available but there is a handout available here.

For those who are interested, Father Andrew is now giving a course at ACEOT entitled “The Ways of Modern Orthodox Theology.”

… the life of the Church is assimilated and known only through life—not in the abstract, not in a rational way. If one must nevertheless apply concepts to the life of the Church, the most appropriate concepts would be not juridical and archaeological ones but biological and aesthetic ones. What is ecclesiality? It is a new life, life in the Spirit. What is the criterion of the rightness of this life? Beauty. Yes, there is a special beauty of the spirit, and, ungraspable by logical formulas, it is at the same time the only true path to the definition of what is orthodox and  what is not orthodox. The connoisseurs of this beauty are the spiritual elders, the startsy, the masters of the ‘art of arts’, as the holy fathers call asceticism. The startsy were adept at assessing the quality of spiritual life. The Orthodox taste, the Orthodox temper, is felt but it is not subject to arithmetical calculation. Orthodoxy is shown, nor proved. That is why there is only one way to understand Orthodoxy: through direct orthodox experience… to become Orthodox, it is necessary to immerse oneself all at once in the very element of Orthodoxy, to begin living in an Orthodox way. There is no other way.

Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth. An Essay in Orthodox
Theodicy in Twelve Letters, trans. by Boris Jakim, Princeton NJ, 1997, pp. 8–9.

Quoted in “Lecture I: Thinking and doing, being and praying: where do we start?” which is the first of a series of lectures by Father Andrew Louth on “Orthodox Theology. A Personal Introduction.” More information here. Of course, if you should be anywhere near the Netherlands, you would be well advised to go and listen to the lectures!

I made a rather silly typo in a blog comment yesterday. Or, given that I repeated it twice, perhaps it was more a Freudian slip than a typo. Instead of writing “sola scriptura” I wrote “schola scriptura”. Perhaps I am just an irreformable closet Benedictine after all!

Now, I probably should not have written the comment (or the one that preceded it) in the first place, and I am not going to link to it as it is clear that there is really no room for conversation with the blogger concerned. It’s just that, well, there are certain things that I find really shocking, in this case the idea that Christ did not die for all people, that I felt that I had to say something. But in any case, I should have known better. (Note to self: do not comment on Calvinist blog. In fact, better, do not read Calvinist blogs. Of course the trouble is that, with a few exceptions, most Christian blogs in South Africa seem to be either Calvinist or post-everything, but that is another topic).

But, as I realised that I had written “schola scriptura” instead of “sola scriptura,” it struck me that it was perhaps not such an insignificant difference. For, the school of the Scriptures, with its attitude of sitting at the feet of the biblical authors, and being formed by them, sounds like a far healthier and more traditional attitude to have towards the Scriptures than to see them as a quarry from which to extract arguments with which to defend pre-existing positions. And that reminded me of these words from Father Andrew Louth that I posted over three years ago – how much has happened since then!

The presupposition that lies behind all this – a presupposition either defended (more or less desperately) or finally relinquished – is the principle of sola scriptura, understood as meaning that Scripture is a quarry from which we can extract the truth of God’s revelation: that allied to the more recent notion that the tool to use in extracting meaning from literary texts is the method of historical criticism. We have an alliance between the Reformation and the Enlightenment: not something that inspires confidence. But as will be clear from our considerations so far, both the principle and the method are questionable.

The principle of sola scriptura actually leads one away from the traditional devotion to Scripture as the Word of God which we find par excellence in the Fathers. Scripture is being understood as an arsenal and not as a treasury (to use the contrast drawn by Paul Claudel in his Du sens figure de l’Écriture). And such an understanding leads to a false and misleading notion of the nature of Christianity as a biblical religion. If the bible is seen as a quarry from which truth is to be extracted, then the truth thus extracted – the truth of Christianity – is naturally seen as ‘biblical’. … But as Henri de Lubac protests in his Exégèse Médiévale:

Christianity is not, properly speaking, a ‘religion of the Book’: it is a religion of the word (Parole) – but not uniquely nor principally of the word in written form. It is a religion of the Word (Verbe) – ‘not of a word, written and mute, but of a Word living and incarnate’ (to quote St. Bernard). The Word of God is here and now, amongst us, ‘which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled’: the Word ‘living and active’, unique and personal, uniting and crystallizing all the words which bear it witness. Christianity is not ‘the biblical religion’: it is the religion of Jesus Christ. [Exégèse Médiévale, II/1 (Paris, 1961), pp. 196-9.]

And in those words de Lubac echoes the cry of St. Ignatius of Antioch: ‘For me the archives are Jesus Christ, and the inviolable archives his cross and death and his resurrection and faith in Him.’ [Ep. Philad. VIII. 2.] The heart of Christianity is the mystery of Christ, and the Scriptures are important as they unfold to us that mystery, and not in and for themselves.

Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery,  101-102.

I should have posted this earlier, but I’m sure that there will be readers of this blog who will be interested – and pleased – to know that the lectures on Saints Athanasios, Dionysios, Maximos and Gregory Palamas, that Father Andrew Louth has been giving at the Amsterdam Centre for Eastern Orthodox Theology (ACEOT), are now available on iTunes. I still haven’t worked out why my computer doesn’t like iTunes so haven’t been able to listen to them yet, but have no hesitation in recommending them nevertheless.

There are also lecture handouts available here.

Central to the vision of the Greek Fathers is their sense of the paradox of God’s distance and his closeness, his majesty and his nearness. On the one hand, God is utterly beyond anything we can know or imagine: he is transcendently unknowable – they would have applauded the opinion of the pagan Greek philosopher, Damascius, who said, ‘we do not even know whether he is unknowable.’ On the other hand, God, as the source of all being, as the source of our being, is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

But for the Greek Fathers this is more than just an intellectual paradox about transcendence and immanence. For in Christ the transcendent God has become a human being just like us: the intellectual paradoxes of the infinitely distant and infinitely close are historically true of the of the one the gospels call Jesus of Nazareth, the one born in a stable, the one who died on a cross. The paradoxes intensify as the source of life comes into being in the womb of Mary, the ‘Bearer of God’, and life succumbs to death on the cross, only to be manifest as life triumphant over death in the resurrection. ‘Christ has risen from the dead, by death he has trampled on death, and to those in the tombs given life!’ – as Greek Christians, Orthodox Christians, sing, with inexhaustible joy, as they celebrate the resurrection at Easter.

But the paradoxes do not end there either. For the Greek Fathers ‘theology’ is not an intellectual exercise, whether practised on matters philosophical or historical: it is an experience, realized in prayer, made possible through responding to God’s self-emptying love in the incarnation by our own attempts at ascetic struggle and self-denying love. The experience is transforming, transfiguring: its fruits are the virtues of faith, humility, serenity (or ‘dispassion’), but what we become in our transfigured state is God himself. So to the paradox of incarnation – God became a man – there corresponds the paradox of deification – the human person transfigured by, and into, God. And all this is celebrated in the services of the church, the liturgy, preeminently the Eucharistic Liturgy, in which the whole material creation – bread and wine, water and oil, smells and colours, music and shape, the beauty of creation and the art of human creativity – is drawn into the celebration of God’s transfiguring love for the whole of his creation.

Father Andrew Louth, “Introduction” to The Wisdom of the Greek Fathers(Lion Publishing, 1997), 6-8.

I’m normally a little hesitant about these sort of anthologies designed for the “spirituality” market! But considering the combination of Father Andrew Louth, the Greek Fathers, my looking for accessible things to provide a slightly different view of Christianity to that which most of my family and friends see as the norm, and my search for suitable quotes for making little books, and I thought this would be worth looking at. And reading Father Andrew’s introduction, I thought that it was defintely worth posting.

The Orthodox Christian Network now have their second interview with Father Andrew Louth on the filioque online. It’s part of a series of interviews based on his book Greek East And Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071 (The Church in History) that I mentioned previously. It’s definitely worth listening to but rather a shame that the first half of the programme is taken up by something else.

They also have an interview with Paul Schroeder on St Basil the Great’s sermons on social justice. Schroeder is the translator of St Basil’s sermons on this topic, On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (Popular Patristics), and it is definitely work listening to. As in the case of Father Louth’s interview, the first half of the programme is taken up with something else but at least in this case it’s a fairly useful, if basic, introduction to St Maximus the Confessor.

I happened to chance upon this yesterday, and rather suspect that some readers will be interested:

The Orthodox Christian Network has started a series of  interviews with Father Andrew Louth, based on his book Greek East And Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071 (The Church in History) (which I once started reading and, well, never mind, I may get hold of it sometime again). I listened to the first part last night, which was on iconoclasm. Unfortunately the first half of the half hour programme was taken up by someone else, and what Father Louth could say in fifteen minutes was limited, but still worth listening to. The next one is due to be on the filioque, and there are few scholars I would trust more to introduce people to that topic, so will be interested to hear what he says.

An afterthought:  for those who don’t know or weren’t around in the earlier days of this blog, there are also these lectures by Father Louth:

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