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The Creative Vision of D.

An introduction to his theological thought Ion Bria
One of the most vigorous voices of Orthodox theology in the last half century has undoubtedly been that of Dumitru Staniloae (born 1903), professor of dogmatic theology at the Theological Institute of Bucharest between 1948-1978.' His impressive stature could be compared with that of Georges Florovsky and John Karmiris, or Eduard Schillebeeckx and Karl Rahner, or Karl Barth and Paul Tillich. The scope of his theological work and the depth of his thought are not yet sufficiently known both in the East and West.^ Only recently has an effort been made to circulate his works abroad^ and to obtain his contribution and cooperation in the work of the
Prof. BRIA is programme secretary for Orthodox studies and relationships at the World Council of Churches. ' I attempted a short biographical profile and a general presentation of his works in "Hommage au Pere Dumitru Staniloae pour son sbixante-quinzieme anniversaire". Contacts, No. 105, 1979, pp. 64-74. Several essays on his theological thought and bibliography have already been published: "Pere Dumitru Staniloae a 70 ans", L'Eglise orthodoxe roumaine en 1973, Bucharest, Romanian Patriarchate Printing House, 1974, pp. 115-122; Antonie Plamadeala, "Some Lines on Professor Staniloae's Theology", The Altar (bulletin of the Romanian parish), London, 1970, pp. 24-29; Ion Bria, "A Look at Contemporary Romanian Dogmatic Theology", Sobomost, No. 5, 1972, pp. 330-336; Ion Bria, "La theologie dogmatique actuelle et la theologie orthodoxe roumaine actuelle". La theologie orthodoxe roumaine des origines a nos jours, Bucharest, Editions de l'lnstitut biblique et de Mission orthodoxe, 1974, pp. 254-272 and 500-526; Ion Bria, "Pour situer la theologie du Pere Staniloae", Revue de theologie et de philosophie. No. 112, 1980, pp. 133-137. ^ Some of his studies are published in western reviews or collections. See A. M. Allchin, ed.. The Tradition of Life: Romanian Essays on Spirituality and Theology (Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius), London, 1971; "Orthodoxy, Life in the Resurrection", Eastern Churches Review, No. 2, 1968-9, pp. 271-275; "Some Characteristics of Orthodoxy", Sobomost, Series 5, No. 9, 1969, pp. 627-629; "The Orthodox Conception of Tradition and the Development of Doctrine", Sobomost, Series 5, No. 9, 1969, pp. 652-662; "Unity and Diversity in Orthodox Tradition", The Greek Orthodox Theoiogical Review, No. 17, 1972, pp. 19-40; "L'homme, image de Dieu dans le monde". Contacts, No. 84, 1973, pp. 287-309; "L'accueil de la Tradition dans le monde d'aujourd'hui: le point de vue de POrthodoxie", Irenikon, Vol. XLVII, No. 4, 1974, pp. 451-466; "Jesus Christ, Incarnate Logos of God, Source of Freedom and Unity", The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 26, 1974, pp. 403-412; "L'Orthodoxie: quelques traits caracteristiques". Presence orthodoxe. No. 26, 1974, pp. 10-25; "The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Theology and Life of the Orthodox Church", Diakonia, Vol. IX, No. 4, 1974, pp. 343-366. 3 For example, Dieu est amour, translated from Romanian, preface by Daniel Neeser, Geneva, Labor et Fides, 1980.



World Council of Churches. Those who participated in the Bucharest-Cernica consultation (June 1974), organized by the Commissioti oti World Mission and Evangelism,'* will recall his inspired paper on the cetitrality of the logos. Dumitru Staniloae not only getiuinely renewed the traditional way of thitiking based on the authority of the Church Fathers, but raised several points fundamentally significant for theological discourse of today. His approach differs from those who present Orthodoxy in the form of a theological introduction or synthesis for the purpose of communication with the western churches (Sergius Boulgakov, Vladimir Lossky, Nicholas Zernov, John Meyendorff, Olivier Clement, Timothy Ware), in that he explores inductively all the basic issues of Orthodox doctrine in a personal and invigorating spirit. The controversial areas which constitute a real stumbling block for modern Orthodox theologians, the so-called "world problems" (society, state, nation, ethics, ecumenism) are to him the familiar areas for creative theological thinking. For the last fifty years, his writings have appeared regularly in Romanian theological reviews, inaugurating a new period in the history of Romanian theology.^ His most notable works are: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (three volumes, 1978), Philokalia (ten volumes, together with notes and commentary, of a collection of ascetical writings of Greek spiritual Fathers of the fourth to fifteenth centuries),^ and Commentaries on St Maximos the Confessor (whose doctrine on cosmic liturgy and salvation has pervaded his whole theology).^ It is impossible to give a brief summary of this vast and diversified field of research and refiection. A few points of ecumenical interest are indicated. Since the beginning of his research, Staniloae's thought has been infiuenced by Byzantine theology, on the one hand,^ and by modern dogmatics on the other.^ The fruit of this first period is Jesus Christ or the Restauration of Man (Sibiu, 1945) which still remains a landmark in contemporary Orthodox christology. In it he developed a profound theology of hypostasis and of man as eternal person. Although he is a teacher of dogmatic theology, Staniloae sees the role of theology not on the level of systematizing the faith into dogma (council creeds), theologoumena (ecclesiastical traditions), or theological theses (private opinions). For him the purpose of theology is to help students to penetrate the mystery of the faith and to disclose its meaning for the spiritual life. Systematic theology should be liberated from all limits and obstacles which prevent Orthodoxy from


'* See the French version entitled "La centralite du Christ dans la theoiogie, dans la spiritualite et dans la mission orthodoxe". Contacts, Vol. XXVII, No. 92,1975, pp. 447-457. 5 Besides the six diocesan periodicals, the Romanian Church publishes three main theological journals: Ortodoxia (Orthodoxie), Studii Teologice (Theological Studies), and Biserica Orthodbxa Romana (Romanian Orthodox Church). ^ Both these works are published by the Biblical and Orthodox Missionary Institute of the Romanian Patriarchate in Bucharest. The first four volumes of Philokalia were printed 1944-48, the last six appeared since 1976. ^ Two volumes, published by the Apostoliki Diakonia Publishing House, Athens,' in a collection edited by P. Nellas, in 1978 and 1979. 8 Cf. his study The Life and Teaching ofSt Gregory Palamas, Sibiu, 1938. ^ He translated from the Greek the Handbook of Dogmatics, Ch. Andrutsos, Sibiu, 1930.


becoming the true Catholic faith for everyone everywhere. Due to this style of presentation, dogmatics became the top priority for students of theology in Romania for several decades.'^ One of the main thrusts of Staniloae's theology consists of establishing an organic link between the articulation of the faith, spirituality and the knowledge of God. This approach enables him constantly to challenge the language and images applied to God. Theology for him means freedom from both enslaving passions and intellectual idols. It is doxological; its symbolic language evokes the language of prayer. It is an intellectual liturgy centred on the revelation of the Holy Trinity. It takes place in an act of personal invocation and communion with God; therefore prayer is the gate of theology." Theology is a gift of God which is offered within the context of a personal experience with God and his acts in history.
The notion of God

In a series of articles,'^ Staniloae refers repeatedly to the notion of God, trying to find a new possibility to speak and to accept God beyond the intellectual separation commonly accepted in western rationalism, between the transcendence of divine essence and its presence. He underlines the organic synthesis between God's transcendence and his reality in creation, history and humanity, referring to the uncreated divine energies as formulated by St Gregory Palamas, which flow from God's essence and presence. God's nature comprises both an incomprehensible essence and an accessible energy. Theosis deification, a notion which defines the heart of Orthodox soteriology is based exactly on this discovery and continuous fiowing of the nature of God, enabling constant and real human participation in the divine mystery. The Holy Trinity, for Staniloae at the centre of Orthodox theology, is not only the mystery of a living and personal God, but also the mystery of God in communion. The central place of koinonia in his theology serves to avoid a naturalistic and personalistic view of divine nature. Moreover, the Holy Trinity is the origin and the model of the unity of Church, of humankind and of the person. The living, personal and perichoretical Trinity is not a nominal image, but the revelation of the divine reality. Living in a context where intercultural dialogue is becoming an existential and intellectual necessity, Staniloae rediscovers the richness of the theology of logos. God's presence is transparent in the created world; the unity, order and holiness of creation are rooted in the living and "rational" logos. Staniloae has formulated a Christian view of human responsibility in the world based on the idea that the cosmos is full of potentialities, for new forces and vitality are at work in it.'^ The individual is not simply a
"^Theological education and ministerial formation in the Romanian Orthodox Church are carried out in six theological seminaries (secondary level) and two theological institutes (university level), in Bucharest and Sibiu. '' See "La theologie dogmatique dans l'Eglise orthodoxe roumaine des origines a nos jours", De la Theologie orthodoxe roumaine..., pp. 500-528. '2 One of them has been translated into French; see note 4. '3 See Daniel Neeser, "Le monde, don de Dieu, reponse de l'homme: aspects de la pensee du Pere Dumitru Staniloae", Revue de theologie et de philosophie. No. 112, 1980, pp. 138-150.



part of the cosmic reality, but its paradigm, a new creation in creation. Through the baptismal mystery, he or she becomes a priest offering the holy creation to God. Here the inner link between creation, incarnation and redemption is seen since the logos through whom all have been created is the incarnate Son, the Saviour, the suffering King.

Another key idea in Staniloae's theology concerns the relationship between holiness, theology and knowledge of God. Life in Christ, or spirituality, is a never-ending process, symbolized for example in the Ladder of Spiritual Ascent of St John Climacus (579-649). It implies a spiritual growth overcoming egoism and selfishness, surrendering the created idols, the root of all sin. Spiritual growth is not moral perfectionism, for a new level of spiritual life means a new level of transcendence and of knowledge of God. Holiness and theoria contemplation are inseparable. Staniloae likes to describe the person as the temple of God. Open to God's presence, the human person becomes the holy dwelling place for the mystical devotion, the image of God in more than a nominal sense. The person is always subject to tnetanoia, which is not the destruction of human nature but the restoration of the "ikon" of God, a way to prepare for the reception of God's grace, the divine gift through the Holy Spirit who brings the divine energies into the life of each person. Spirituality has an important ethical dimension. Staniloae opposes the excessive privatization of piety which he sees reflected in Christian existentialism in the West. He insists on the ethical implication of Christian piety and on the quality of personal relationships as a mode of existence. Theosis means for him the transfiguration of our style of life, and implies concern for one another, mutual sharing, dialogue and openness. Responsibility, the sense of belonging, is at the heart of Orthodox ethics. The continuing invocation of the name of Jesus, the so-called "prayer of Jesus", is incompatible with closing the door on neighbours. Theology and spirituality cannot be separated from a clear and sharp witness to Christ in society and in the world.
The Church


In contrast to those who take for granted the Church as the pillar and ground of truth and as being free from all historical involvements and cultural values, Staniloae highlights the sacramental nature of the Church. This view enables him to speak both of ecclesial transparency and ecclesiastical historicity. His ecclesiology entails a particular understanding of the theology of the Holy Spirit: since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is rebuilding the trinitarian fellowship in history in the form of the people of God, the body of Christ. The unity and catholicity of the Church are not abstract notions, for they refer to a real, historical people of God, the reality of the local church, a historical community rooted in the soil of a culture and nation. It is in his ecclesiological studies that Staniloae reacts, sometimes sharply, against western theological methods and western infiuences on


eastern theology. He has made one of the most critical observations on Roman-Catholic ecclesiology. Son of a Romanian community, which suffered under the proselytism of the Greek-Catholics (Uniates) in Orthodox Transylvania, he scrutinized severely the political implications of the traditional Roman-Catholic ecclesiology {The Catholicism After the War, Sibiu, 1933). But he has a profound sense of the unity of all Christians and he never adopts an attitude of anti-ecumenism.''* On the contrary, one of his most important contributions to ecumenical research is what he calls "open conciliarity",'^ which for him is crucial to the understanding of the identity and the place of Christian confessions in the framework of the Universal Church. "Open conciliarity" is a sacramental space for growing together, each with its specific identity, within an embracing catholicity. Those who know well the spirit of Staniloae's ecumenism find his view on the convergence of theology and spirituality as having great potential in the search for Christian unity: It seems that here we can see not only something of the unifying power of the Orthodox tradition at its deepest and best, but also something of the way in which the ecumenical dialogue between the churches must be carried on. The questions of dogmatic theology cannot and must not be avoided. But they need to be met at the place where theology and spirituality come together into one. When they are seen in relation to the living and praying experience of the Christian people, then we find unexpected possibilities of reconciliation between positions which appear at first sight to be absolutely opposed.'^ The world Orthodoxy is often regarded as having little concern for those who live around it, for the human family, giving the impression that salvation is beyond and above human nature and history. For Staniloae the Church has to face the difficulties and the anguish of the world and to help the world even in an inhospitable situation. "The world is not only a gift, but a task for many." It is indeed a place of suffering, cross and death, but Christ is present in all those sufferings, struggles and anxieties.'^ One could see the value of the world only through the sign of the Cross, which Jesus Christ imprints on it. In this sense we cannot think of the cross without the world as God's gift. But on the other side we cannot think of the world without the cross. The cross makes this world transparent for God. The cross shows that the world is God's gift, and as such is a lower, and lesser reality than God himself. The cross is the sign of God as a person, who is above all gifts. But it is also the sign of a perfect relationship between God and man. In this sense the cross is specially the sign
'"* Istvan Juhasz, "Dumitru Staniloae's Ecumenical Studies as an Aspect of the Orthodox-Protestant Dialogue", Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 16, No. 4, 1979, pp. 747-764. See also D. Staniloae, "Romanian Orthodox-Anglican Talks: a Dogmatic Assessment", in Romanian Orthodox Church and the Church of England, Bucharest, Biblical and Orthodox Missionary Institute, 1976, pp. 129-148. '5 In Romanian, "Sobornicitate deschisa", Ortodoxia, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, 1971, pp. 165-180. '^ A. A. Allchin, "Introduction", in D. Staniloae, The Victory of the Cross, Fairacres Pamphlet No. 16, Oxford, 1971, pp. 2-3. '^ D. Staniloae, "La dynamique du monde dans l'Eglise", in Proces-verbaux du Deuxieme congres de theologie orthodoxe {Mnzns, 19-29 August 1976), ed. Savas Agourides, Athens, 1978, pp. 346-360.



of the Son of Man in whom this relationship has been perfectly realized. The cross is the sign of the Son of God become man, the sign which he prints on the world by his solidarity with the world. Without the cross man would be in danger of considering this world as the ultimate reality. Without the cross he would no longer see the world as God's gift. Without the cross the Son of God incarnate would have simply confirmed the image of the world as it is now as the final reality, and strictly speaking he could have been neither God nor God incarnate. The cross completes the fragmentary meaning of this world which has meaning when it is seen as a gift which has its value, but only a relative and not an absolute value. The cross reveals the destiriy of the world as it is drawn towards its transfiguration in God by Christ. For this reason at the end of this stage of the world this sign, "the sign of the Son of Man", will be revealed in the heavens above all the world, as a light, as a meaning, as a destiny which illumines the whole history of man (Matt. 24:30). In this way the cross prophetically points to the eschatological, the final destiny of the world. For this reason we associate the sign of the cross with the Holy Trinity, with the Kingdom of God.'*

Although it is a painful experience, the Church is challenged to grow together with the world, as part of its mission as a healing and servant community. There is an analogy between the iticarnation of God, in assuming the human nature, and the solidarity of the Church with the world, in which it assumes and transfigures the world's difficulties and complexities. "Orthodoxy must go beyond its theoretical anthropology to become like a Saint, involved in the specific human relationships found in the complicated circumstances of our daily lives." '^ One of the most specific marks of Staniloae's theology is that it relates closely to the local church and to the culture. His theology is an attempt to find an adequate expression of the Orthodox faith that does not alienate the authentic values of a people, but nourishes its spiritual and social life, and inspires its artistic imagination and poetry. And yet, while the personal and cultural mark of his theology is evident, it never prevents a great variety of readers, students and scholars from finding access to it.

Staniloae's research covers many more issues, e.g. the relation between the logos of creation (cosmic pantocrator) and the Lord-Myrios, King and Judge; God's involvement in history as suffering and crucified servant and as risen Lord and Christ. Some of his ideas may need further examination and clarification, especially because they are not presented in a traditional systematic way. But whatever the topic, his refiection always proceeds in a personal, confessing style. Moreover, he always suggests an unexpected insight, an incipient reflection which might constitute a basis for taking steps in a new direction. Dumitru Staniloae has an increasing infiuence upon the style and methodology of Christian theology today. There are several directions in which
"* D. Staniloae, The Victory of the Cross, pp. 20-21. '^ D. Staniloae, "Witness Through 'Holiness' of Life", in I. Bria, ed., Martyria-Mission: the Witness of the Orthodox Churches Today, Geneva, WCC, 1980, pp. 45-51.



his impact can be perceived. First, he has succeeded in constituting a school of thinking in his church which is prepared to take full responsibility in the field of theological education and ministerial formation. Due to him, a younger generation of Orthodox theologians are able now to continue in the tradition of such great personalities and scholars as Theodor Popescu (history of the Church), Livin Stan (canon law), Petre Vintilescu (liturgical and pastoral theology), Dumitru Belu (ethics and philosophy), and loan Coman (patristics), and to develop that tradition in new and creative ways. Second, Staniloae has presented Orthodoxy in a new way in view of the intercultural and ecumenical dialogue. This fact will be perhaps realized later when his works have been translated and circulated in the West. Staniloae's greatest merit lies exactly in the fact that he discloses the heart of Orthodoxy while bypassing religious systems or philosophical views of several centuries which are still considered by some to be required reading for the reception of Orthodoxy, both in the East and the West. His works make us realize that there is a major difference between the modern theological (or religious) introduction to Orthodoxy, which sometimes limits the understanding of the life of Orthodoxy in its fullness, and Orthodox theology as such. Everyone is invited here to reach for the roots of the Orthodox faith and not to be fascinated by one-sided commentaries full of symbolic and mysterious language. Staniloae remains a great enabler of the communication and reception of Orthodoxy in the contemporary Church and world. It is not surprising that his works are becoming a rich resource for the catechetical instruction and teaching of the faith. Third, the whole field of systematic theology is challenged by his vision and method. Sooner or later we must come to know that his kind of theologizing contains a potential for integrating disparate strands of systematic theology into a comprehensive system. Above all, he invites students, scholars and all people of God to practise theology as an existential response to God, to speak about God with profound sensitivity and to accept him with an immense sense of responsibility. For him theology is nothing else than an existential expression of the Spirit's life offered to God. Finally, it must be said that Staniloae's theology is the best expression of his personality. One cannot detach, in his case, the vision from the style of life. He is a man of extreme tenderness, courtesy and sensitivity in family, society and faculty. His soft and fatherly face emanates a fundamental simplicity and sympathy, a healing calm and serenity which overcome any hardness of heart and aggressive distance. It is this charismatic mystery of his person, his "ikon", which led many students, scholars and friends to become his disciples.