Sunday, 8 February 2015

Byzantine Theology, by John Meyendorff



John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 1974 Fordham University Press


As an introduction to Eastern Orthoodoxy, I recommended Journey to the Kingdom, by Vassilos Papavassilliou. Spending a lot of time looking at the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church is not the best way to learn about it. Nevertheless, many will want a deeper knowledge of Eastern Orthodoxy in its historical context. Byzantine Theology, by the excellent John Meyendorff offers a great perspective on this.

I first read this book over seven years ago when I was studying for my PhD. At the time it shocked me into realising just how theologically shallow my fundamentalist evangelicalism was and caused me to long for a richer and deeper tradition.

The Byzantine Empire was the cultural and theological cradle of Eastern Orthodoxy and all the various ethnic jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church share the legacy of Constantinople. Meyendorff traces the history of theology in the Byzantine Empire from the time of the Christological controversies through to the Council of Florence and the aborted reunification with the Catholic Church.

Three parties are identified in the development of Byzantine Theology. Unsurprisingly, the first is the Imperial government. The emperors sometimes acted as champions of Orthodoxy, but more often than not, they led the church into compromises with heresy such as Monothelitism. Meyenbdorff challenges the frequent assertion of Caesaropapism by arguing that a monastic party was the true defender of Orthodoxy, frequently coming into conflict with the Imperial party line. The author also identifies a third party, the Humanists who treasured the legacy of pre-Christian Hellenistic philosophy. Once again, Meyendorff challenges a frequent misconception, that is that Eastern Orthodox thought was heavily grounded in Hellenism. The key theologians of Orthodox Byzantium spent much of their time combating attempts to mix Christianity and Neo-Platonism. He even paints a picture of Pseudo-Dionysius as offering a challenge to Platonic thought.

I would say this is one of the best books on Eastern Orthodoxy I have read.

12 comments:

  1. My friend and I saw the movie "Birdman" today and after it we were discussing how it has always been harder to fight half a truth than an outright lie. I find misconceptions really unfair... I feel sadness in my heart when it happens! I am glad there is a book addressing this...
    Do you think it would be a good read for Lent? ( I still have not found one for this year and time is passing!)

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    1. It's an academic book rather than a spiritual book. It would enhance your knowledge of Eastern Orthodoxy and theology in general though.

      It might not currently be in print and second-hand copies can be expensive.

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    2. Yes I gathered it is an academical book but that is sad that I cannot easily find it.
      Have you by chance read Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem?

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    3. It's probably not difficult to find. it will be on Amazon, I just don't know what the current going rate for second-hand copies is. I got my copy at a good price.

      I've read Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology several times. Obviously, I disagree with most of his theology.

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    4. I disagree too. I had a big problem grasping Calvinism (not in theory; I could state all the beliefs and arguments but I couldn't understand how this could be comform to what Christ came for...) and someone gave me that book but it did not help much. But I found the style to be good though and I wonder if the Eastern Orthodox Church has anything similar?

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    5. There is indeed such a book I made the comparison myself:

      Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

      I take it you are Eastern Orthodox?

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    6. No I am not but very close to it. I am Byzantine Greek Catholic (Melkite) =)

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    7. I thought you might be Melkite or Maronite. You live in Lebanon, don't you?

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    8. Yes I am that person who keeps clicking from Lebanon, I really like your blogs (I guess you gathered!).

      Do you do something special for Lent?

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  2. I am going to be received into the Catholic Church this Easter, so it will be a very special Lent this year.

    As a discipline, I will be giving up heavy metal music and drinking less alcohol.

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    1. Oh this is beautiful!! You should do an e-celebration and I'll bake e-biscuits for everyone coming ^^
      I was reading about the receiving of new believers in the old Byzantine Church last week! It is kind of very cool!

      I feel stupid though because I did not phrase the question well... the question was for the blog, like Lent related posts here.

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    2. I have no ideas for Lent themed posts. I only started keeping Lent last year.

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