Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics

Previous // Contents // Next


The affiliation of dogmas to the Scriptures is a hermeneutic one.  The problem posed by Western theologians, after the Reform Era, as to whether we have one or two “sources of divine revelation” as they were named, denotes the specific concern between Roman Catholics and Protestants, given that the latter had rejected the authority of the Tradition of the Church, and had introduced the principle of “sola scriptura” (=only the scripture). In Orthodox Theology, the problem was posed through the so-called “Orthodox Confessions” of the 17th century (prev.ref.). Thus, depending on the deviation of these “confessions” (Mogilas=Roman Catholicism, Cyril Loukaris=Calvinism, etc.), the answer was –and continues to be- provided by the Orthodox. The West was led into this concern for two reasons, which do not apply in Orthodoxy:

1. The West lacked the element that a revelation is always something personal, and never something logical or intellectual.  God revealed Himself to Abraham, to Moses, to Paul, to the Fathers, etc.. Consequently, it is never an issue of a “new” revelation, or an “addition” to a revelation, or even a case of John’s Revelations being “incremented”, as suggested even by Orthodox theologians.

2. In the West, an objectification of the Scriptures and the Church had become prevalent to such an extent, that expressions such as “treasuries” of the truth were coined. But in Orthodox tradition, both the Scripture and the Church are considered to be testimonies of experience of the truth, and not merely “masterminds” that perceive, record and transmit truths. This is because the truth in Orthodox Tradition is not a matter of objective, logical proposals; the truth consists of (personal) stances and relations between God, mankind and the world. (For example, I do not become acquainted with the truth by intellectually knowing and finally accepting that God is Triune; it is only when I am personally involved existentially in the Triadic existence of God, through which my entire being –as well as the world’s– acquires a meaning.  In this way, any ordinary, everyday woman who is however a proper member of the Church, can “know” the dogma of the Trinity.  The same applies for Christology etc.). But we shall go into this topic of Gnosiology in more detail, later.

Consequently, if the Revelation of God is a matter of personal experience and a broader implication of man in a lattice of relations with God, with fellow-man and the world, and if it pours new light onto overall existence, then the Scripture that testifies to this Revelation is considered complete, both from the aspect of the Revelation’s content, as well as for every other similar kind Revelation pursuant to the composing of the Bible’s Canon. We must add the following clarifications here:

Even though in every case of such personal and existential revelations, the revelations are of the One and Only God, the means by which they are revealed differ; for instance, on Mount Sinai we have a revelation of God Himself, which is revealed to us in Christ, but not in the same way. With Christ, we are enabled not only to see or hear God, but to actually touch Him, to feel Him, to commune with Him physically: “Who was from the beginning, Whom we heard, Whom we saw and Whom our hands touched”. (John I, 1:1). The divine epiphanies of the Old Testament, and subsequently in the New Testament, while having the same content, are not revealed in the same way. And, because a Revelation –as we said– is not a matter of objective knowledge but a personal relationship, the form of a Revelation is of vital importance because it introduces new relationships, or in other words, new existential ways.

(The matter of relations between Old and New Testaments is historically very old in Patristic Theology, and it was solved through the Theology of saint Irineos, who dramatically corrected Justin’s teaching on the Logos, and was later formulated excellently by Saint Maximus the Confessor, in his principle that stated: “the contents of the Old Testament are the shadow, the contents of the New Testament are the image, and the (contents of) the things to come is the truth.”)

Consequently, in the person of Christ we have a unique form of revelation that is characterized by communion with the senses (vision, touch, taste, etc., as per the passage of John I, 1:1 where we read: «and Whom our hands touched»), and not only with the mind or the heart. This is why this way was judged by the Fathers as being the supreme and fullest way. Nothing is superior to Christophany (Christ being revealed): “Whomsoever has seen me, has seen the Father”.  Thus, the New Testament –in which is recorded the experience of those people who had this physical communion with God (“Whom we saw and Whom our hands touched”) – gives meaning to both the Theophanies (God being revealed) in the Old Testament, as well as those that followed, after the Bible.  In fact, the Fathers (Irineos and others) maintain that after the Incarnation of the Logos, we have a fuller and newer form of revelation than that of the Old Testament. In respect to the Disciples, this superiority is attributed to their tangible and physical association with Christ; in respect to the subsequent Church, this superiority is attributed to the Sacraments and especially in the Eucharist, which has preserved this physical communion (see Ignatius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyril of Alexandria etc.).  Those who participate deservedly in the Divine Eucharist, can “see” God much better than Moses.

Thus, the entire life of the Church draws the revelation of God from the event of the historical Christ, as recorded in the New Testament. And that is why the New Testament has the status of an exceptional and primeval dogma, compared to which, all other revelatory means (including the Old Testament and subsequent dogmas) comprise renditions of it, in the more profound, existential sense of the word, i.e. the means of experiencing existence, as a new relationship between God, mankind and the world.

Conclusion: Neither the rendering of the New Testament or the dogmas can circumvent the event and the person of Christ, because that would require the insertion of a new kind of revelation, fuller and superior to that of Christ. We can draw a great number of individual conclusions from this, but I will note only the following:

Á. The Divine Eucharist, as the exceptional form of tangible communion –and therefore cognizance- of God, remains forever the highest and most perfect form of God’s revelation, in its personal, existential sense (“and Whom our hands touched”).

Â. The viewings of God (every form of Theophany), whether through holy icons or through the ascetic experience, are viewings of the Uncreated Light, always in the form that it is revealed in Christ, and not independent of it; in other words, they are essentially Christophanies. (This should be stressed, in order to avoid misunderstandings that are unfortunately beginning to increase in number).  As proof of this, it suffices to mention that, as regards the icons, the entire argumentation of saints John the Damascene, Theodore the Studite etc Iconophiles is: that Christ’s incarnation imposes the veneration of icons as forms of God’s revelation; and as for the Uncreated Light, that this light was understood by the holy Esychasts to be the Taborian Light, in other words, as a partaking of the light that radiated from the historical body of Christ.

Getting back to the association between Scripture and dogmas, we therefore note that every dogma, regardless to what it pertains (even the issue of the Holy Trinity), is essentially a memorandum to the event of Christ, through which God is revealed as an existential experience of a relationship, in other words, as truth. It is not by chance, that, for instance, the 1st Ecumenical Council (Synod), while founding the Trinitarian theology, also did this on the pretext and the basis of the truth regarding the Person of Christ. The same was done by all the pursuant Ecumenical Councils, even though they were also preoccupied with all other issues.

This indicates that the Apostolic experience that is recorded in the Bible comprises the first dogma, which is then interpreted by all the other dogmas. It is therefore impossible for any dogma to impinge on this experience; it can only interpret it.  The Apostolic experience and tradition is of decisive importance for the dogma. In this way, we have a consecutiveness of dogmas, a sequence of dogmas, which resemble icons of Christ that are painted by different people in different eras, and with the means that every era had at its disposal. 

This sequence is both external (= a fidelity to the preceding tradition and finally to the Bible), and also internal (= a preservation of the same existential relationship between God, mankind and the world, as fulfilled and revealed in Christ).


Previous // Contents // Next

Translation by A.N.

Greek text

Article published in English on: 9-9-2005.

Last update: 22-9-2005.