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“Conservatives and “Liberals”

Labels that are foreign to the Orthodox Tradition

By Protopresbyter Fr. J. Romanides, University Professor

 Source : John S. Romanide "Patristic Theology" with Prologue by Fr. George D. Metallinos,

Dean of the Athens University School of Theology

Commentary by Hagiorite Monk Damascenos

Now thrust upon the supporters of this Hesychast Tradition is the label of 'Conservatives'.  But what exactly is a ‘Conservative’ in the West?

In the West, a 'Conservative' is anyone who identifies the Holy Bible with God's revelation to the world, to mankind.  This is because in the past, Protestants and Papists believed in the verbatim divine inspiration of the Holy Bible; that is, Christ through the Holy Spirit had supposedly dictated the Holy Bible to the Prophets and the Evangelists. As if the authors of the Holy Bible had sat down like scribes and written down whatever they heard being said by the Holy Spirit.

But now with the emergence of Biblical critique, this line of thought was blown to pieces and the Protestant world was divided into conservative Protestants and liberal Protestants. Lutherans are likewise divided into conservatives and liberals. In America there are separate Lutheran churches. Some are liberal and one, the Missouri Synod, is conservative. Some do not absolutely accept the Holy Bible as revelation, while others accept it absolutely as revelation.

The same is observed with Baptists. Liberal Baptists, on the one hand do not accept the Holy Bible verbatim as divinely inspired and as revelation, while others accept it as revelation and as divinely inspired. The same is true of the Methodists. The same is observed with all the Protestant Denominations of America - that is, they have been divided into liberals and conservatives in this aspect.

Now, one may wonder if this form of separation can apply to the Orthodox Tradition; in other words, are there 'conservative' Fathers and 'liberal' Fathers in the same manner? That is, is there any Father of the Church who teaches a verbatim divine inspiration of the Holy Bible? Is there any Father of the Church who identifies the Holy Bible with that very experience of theosis (=deification)?  No, there is none, since the experience of theosis/deification is a revelation by God to mankind. In fact, from the point of view of Dogmatic Theology, for one to identify the Holy Bible as revelation - which is the experience of deification and which also transcends sayings and meanings - is pure heresy.

Thus, can one who accepts this Patristic line be rightly characterized according to the above Protestant theory as a ‘Conservative’?  

When Liberal Protestants hear of this Patristic line, they say: ‘Ah, now THAT is liberalism!’. Conservative Protestants say: ‘Oh, now THAT is heresy!’

In other words, to conservative Protestants, we Orthodox are heretics - that is, we who follow the Fathers.

Then one will ask: ‘Who, then, are the Orthodox liberals and the Orthodox conservatives?  

The answer is that it is those who theologize respectively in a Protestant manner. It is for this reason that certain theologians in Greece have also been divided into liberals and conservatives. Liberal theologians are those who follow liberal Protestants and conservative theologians are those who follow conservative Protestants on these issues.

But can the Patristic Tradition fit into these characterizations and slogans? Of course not. A Hesychast theologian of the Eastern Church would be considered in the West to be a liberal. Why? Because he does not identify the written text, the sayings and the meanings of the Holy Bible as revelations.

Well, since revelation is the experiencing of theosis/deification (which transcends understanding as well as sayings and meanings), it means that the label of ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ cannot be attached to the bearers of the Orthodox Tradition. That is why the Fathers are neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative’.

Quite simply, there are Fathers of the Church who have reached the stage of illumination only and they are saints of the Church - or those who have also reached the stage of theosis/deification and are also saints of the Church, only more glorious than the previous, only-illuminated ones.

Such is the Patristic Tradition: to reach either enlightenment or theosis/deification - having first passed through enlightenment.

The Orthodox Tradition is nothing more than a therapeutic passage, during which the purification-catharsis of the mind, the enlightenment of the mind - and if God wills, the theosis/deification of the mind and of the whole person - take place.

So, given the above cadre, can there logically be such a thing as an "enlightened liberal" or an "enlightened conservative"?  Certainly not.  

Because, one can either be enlightened or not.

Either one can have reached theosis/deification, or not.

Either one can have chosen the passage of therapy, or not.

Beyond these, all other literal differentiations are nonexistent.

Translation : AN

Article published in English on: 18-10-2023.

Last update: 18-10-2023