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:

Photo courtesy of Jim Forest. More photos here


As I hinted at in the previous post, if earlier readers of this blog are still around they will appreciate that the coming of Father Andrew Louth to Amsterdam is a worthy occasion to resume blogging. (And if there are readers who don’t know why I should be interested in that they can click here). The reason for this was the launching of the Amsterdam Centre for Eastern Orthodox Theology at which Father Louth is going to be a guest professor and at which he was the guest speaker yesterday. This is a new institute located in the theology faculty of the Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam which will be more formally launched in October when Metropolitan Kallistos Ware will be guest speaker. Father Louth gave a lecture on “The Nature of Eastern Orthodox Theology.” I tried to take reasonably extensive notes, but couldn’t keep up with everything. However, I hope that the following is not too inaccurate an overview of his paper.

Father Louth began by noting that many people had first discovered Orthodox theology through Vladimir Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Why Lossky used the term “mystical theology” in the title is not clear, for, having done a doctorate on Eckhart, he was acquainted with what the West considers mysticism, and yet the contents of Lossky’s book simply look like traditional Christian theology. However, in the introduction to the book, Lossky explains the complementarity between mysticism and theology, a complementarity that has been lost in the West:

The eastern tradition has never made a sharp distinction between mysticism and theology, between personal experience of the divine mysteries and the dogma affirmed by the Church… To put it another way, we must live the dogma expressing a revealed truth, which appears to us as an unfathomable mystery, in such a fashion that instead of assimilating the mystery to our mode of understanding, we should, on the contrary, look for a profound change, an inner transformation of spirit, enabling us to experience it mystically…

Lossky does not begin with the experience of God, but rather with participation in the divine mysteries, which refers both to the sacraments and to the truths of faith. These are truths that we experience and celebrate in the divine mysteries and within the Church. Experience cannot be detached from dogma, nor detached from the Church; it is not something individualistic but is rooted in the experience of the Eucharistic community.

Father Louth then proceeded to explore some of the features of this Orthodox theology by offering some reflections on the Fathers of the Church, specifically Saint Athanasius, Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, Saint Maximus the Confessor and Saint Gregory Palamas.


This is quite long but I’ve been wanting to transcribe it for a while and I’d done enough packing for one day today. It’s an extract from Father Louth’s lecture on “Maximus the Confessor and Modern Science” that I mentioned a while ago.

At the beginning of his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, the first volume of which has been translated into English as The Experience of God, [Father Dumitru Stăniloae] has this to say:

Some of the Fathers of the Church have said that man is a microcosm, a world which sums up in itself the larger world. Saint Maximus the Confessor remarked that the more correct way would be to consider man as a macrocosm because he is called to comprehend the whole world within himself, as one capable of comprehending it without losing himself, for he is distinct from the world. Therefore man effects a unity greater than the world exterior to himself whereas, on the contrary, the world as cosmos, as nature, cannot contain man fully within itself without losing him, that is, without losing in this way the most important reality, that part which more than all others gives reality its meaning. The idea that man is called to become ‘the world writ large’ has a more precise expression, however, in the term macroanthropos. The term conveys the fact that in the strict sense the world is called to be humanised entirely, that is, to bear the entire stamp of the human, to become panhuman, making real through that stamp a need that is implicit in the world’s own meaning, to become in its entirety a humanised cosmos in a way that the human being is not called to become nor can ever fully become, even at the farthest limit of his attachment to the world where he is completely identified with it, a cosmosised man. The destiny of the cosmos is found in man not man’s destiny in the cosmos. This is shown, not only by the fact that the cosmos is the object of human consciousness and knowledge and not the reverse, but also by the fact that the entire cosmos serves human existence in a practical way.

These words of Father Dumitru Stăniloae sum up I think, more than Maximus himself ever does, the core of Maximus’ understanding of the analogy between the universe and the human person. The idea of the human as microcosm is of course an old one and in drawing on it Maximus would not have been thought to have been saying anything exceptional. It’s perhaps worth pausing on that for a moment. The ideas that Maximus draws on, the philosophical, anthropological, cosmological and medical ideas that he draws on in his understanding of the human person and the cosmos, would not have seemed strange to his contemporaries. His use of them, however, would have seemed striking if not actually strange.

If we are going to learn from Maximus, we shall have to think through his ideas again using concepts that are contemporary to us, just as he used concepts that were contemporary to him. If we simply attempt to revive an ancient cosmology we shall probably lose Maximus in the process. And the way Father Stăniloae restates the insight of Saint Maximus sees to me to be a step in the right direction. Because of the position of the human in the cosmos, ultimately because the human is created in the image of God, the human person is a bond of the cosmos, or, looked at another way, the human person is priest of the cosmos. It is through the human that the cosmos relates to God. And it is in the human that the cosmos finds its meaning. But, conversely, if the human person fails to fulfil such a priestly, interpretative, relating role, then that failure is not just a personal, individual failing, it is a failing with cosmic consequences.

We are becoming dimly aware of this as we realise how human behaviour that fails to recognise the integrity of God’s creation, its inherent value, its inherent beauty, and treats it simply as so much material to be consumed, how such behaviour is more than simply self destructive, or destructive of human society, but threatens the ordered beauty of the cosmos itself.

Saint Maximus goes even further than that. Fallen human activity, Saint Maximus suggests, threatens the very meaning of the cosmos, insofar as that meaning is perceived by and articulated through human beings. The cosmos ceases to be an ordered beautiful structure, an idea implicit in the very world ‘cosmos’ which in Greek suggests something ordered and beautiful, and becomes obscure, dark, dangerous, at least to humans, a forest of symbols no longer clearly disclosing the divine but difficult to interpret and easily misunderstood. The perfect fit, as it were, between unfallen humanity and the cosmos becomes awkward, ill-fitting, painful and mutually harmful.

Now this is one way in which Maximus understands the coherence of the universe, a sort of co inherence between the human and the cosmos more than simply a sympathy between all the different part of the cosmos, though that is implied too, but a sympathetic togetherness that is focussed on the human person for good or ill.

Father Andrew Louth, podcast, Maximus the Confessor and Modern Science.

What can we learn from the Fathers, seen this time as fellow participants in times of radical change? Norman Baines, the renowned Byzantinist from earlier on in the last century, once remarked that what struck him as a historian about the early Christian movement was a stark asceticism and a staggering confidence, a stark asceticism and a staggering confidence. It seems to me that these two go together and that together they explained how the Fathers lived through periods of dramatic change without being discouraged or dispirited, indeed rather the contrary, for the Fathers became spokesmen for what was being created and refined in the crucible of the times through which they lived.

The confidence was founded on God. But not just on a confidence in His guiding providence in general terms. The Fathers believed that God, who had created and governs the world through His Word, had made Himself part of that world by assuming humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Incarnation, God had lived and died as a human being and by death had conquered death and in the Resurrection given life to humankind. This was the core of their faith as it is the core of our faith, as we sing constantly during the period of Easter, “Christ is risen from the dead, by death He has trampled on death and to those in the graves given life.”

And that gift of life, they, the Fathers, took very seriously. This gift of life was the gift of the life of the Triune Godhead, the life that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit share in their consubstantial communion with each other. So, as God had become human in Christ, so in Christ we humans are called to become God, to be deified. And that confidence demanded asceticism, a stark asceticism answering to a staggering confidence. For the life that we live in this fallen world is far from the divine life promised in Christ. It’s even far from the truly human life that Adam and Eve were to have lived in paradise. It is, as the women of Canterbury constantly bewail and lament in T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral, “living and partly living.”

If we are to grasp and experience the divine life of the godhead, then we have to destroy death in our own lives, the death that makes our own living no more than partly living. And that demands a lifetime of ascesis, training, or perhaps better what the root of that Greek word suggests, to work in raw materials as an artist does, to create and fashion something beautiful out of the raw materials of human living and human loving, of hoping and fearing, of longing and experiencing. Asceticism is often understood in a negative way, as a matter of denial. But that denial is only demanded by the presence of the negative in our fallen human life, a negative that needs to be excised, cut out, so as to make evident the beauty of God’s original creation and beyond that the beauty of the divine life that is offered us through the Incarnation. To be able to distance ourselves from the negativity of the corruption and death that cast their shadow over human lives lived apart from God is to find freedom, that freedom that is the fruit of the Fathers’ stark asceticism and manifest in their staggering confidence, a freedom that enabled them to keep their eyes on the vision of God’s transfiguring glory while living in a society bewildered and often defeatist, with its ancient certainties eroded and crumbling. It is that freedom that we need to grasp and experience and the Fathers offer themselves as our guides to the confidence in God and this corresponding practice of asceticism that is its basis.

Father Andrew Louth, lecture on “The relevance of the Church Fathers Today”

For those who haven’t seen it yet (here or here), a commenter on The Way of the Fathers has kindly tracked down some lost lectures by Father Andrew Louth and made them available in MP3 format.

As anyone who has been reading this blog for more than a couple of months knows, Father Louth is eminently worth reading. Now it turns out that he is also worth listening to!

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