A "Scholastic" is a "school man", a variation of the word schola, school in Latin. Schools were not centers of textbook reading, flag saluting, and learning how not to offend men in dresses in prior ages. A schola, East and West, was a center of instruction through dialogue and disputation, a system of purely Greek invention, one founded on Socrates' smart aleck ways and more coherently developed in the Dialogues of his student, Plato. Dialogue proved a useful oral tool in directing conversation to concentrate on crystallizing certain points of inquiry, in finding the finer points of a thing; similarly, dialogue was a useful written tool in answering objections as a point developed and in keeping the reader's interest rather than lugubriously lecturing him like a hipster, post-modern bore. Even when Plato waned in popularity his teaching methods remained in vogue in Orthodox and Latin culture until the end of the Middle Ages.
For as much grief as modern Orthodox writers give Augustine for his reliance on Plato and the Doctor Angelicus for his extensive use of Aristotle, Greek Christian history is plentiful with more notable example of applying the language of popular philosophy to contemporary theology and binding it upon future generations. The definition of a matter of theology in the language of philosophy is not a wholesale baptism of whatever that particular Greek said, merely that certain concepts were found useful to explain a certain elements of Christian truth for all time. In defense of ICEL's caterwauling over the translation of "consubstantial" in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the idea of substance very much belongs to Greek philosophy and not to any familiar thought in the last few centuries. Far from excusing our ignorance of "substance"—or prosopon in the case of Trinitarian theology—the Church is obligated to teach us about God using these very fitting terms.
Similarly, the "legalistic" and exacting approach of Aquinas and the Schoolmen survives today only in courtrooms, yet for centuries was the acceptable means of settling a matter. When Leo III, Leo V, and Michael III stripped the holy images from the churches of Constantinople and rendered the Hagia Sophia as barren and dull as a Dallas church, Saint John of Damascus did not throw up his hands in objection and exclaim "We've always venerated icons! But why is a mystery, so let us do it and not discuss it!" In his third treatise against the iconoclasts, John taxonomizes numerous levels of veneration and their related sub-types:
- Veneration due to God, of which there are
- Repentance out of love
- Repentance out of fear for loss of love
- Repentance out of fear for punishment
- Veneration of persons or things through which God has worked
- Veneration due to things dedicated to God
- Veneration of types of God
- Veneration of God in other human beings
- Veneration of authority that comes from God
- Veneration of benefactors
In a like manner, Saint John examines specific ways in which something can be an image:
- A natural image, like God the Son is an image of God the Father
- A prophetic image of what is to come
- An imitation
- A Scriptural type
- A type of an event
- A memory
After a resurgence of iconoclasm in his own time, Saint Theodore the Studite got in touch with his inner-Plato and wrote a lengthy dialogue pitting the "Orthodox" against the hopeless "Heretic". Contemporaries would have read the names as the "True Worshiper" and "The One Who Chooses". Like the ancient Greeks Theodore uses his protagonist to propose his doctrine and the counterpart to present objections as each brick of teaching builds a wall of belief.
During the same era the Roman Church produced relatively few notable theologians and no worthwhile movements of thought. Perhaps more genuinely in line with what modern would-be Hesychasts present Greek Christianity to be, the Romans did little else than what was given to them because much of their intellectual inheritance had been lost in the years following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The odd notable writer like Saint Gregory the Great or Saint Bede the Venerable relied heavily on Scripture for his terms and monasticism for his outlook.
|"Do you like the Pope?"|
"Great! You're in charge."
Amid disputes from the Greeks against the Spanish introduction of the Filioque and the "Azymites", as well as from Latins against the deteriorating relationship with the papacy, a renewed interest in theology emerged during Palaiologan Byzantium that did not preclude the Schoolmen. If anything the introduction of Saint Thomas Aquinas' writings shocked the Greek intellectual world. The Summa was probably first translated from Latin to Greek by Maximus Planudes in the early 14th century and quickly gained a following. Opinions of Aquinas and the established Latin theological traditions of Scholasticism and Scotism enjoyed a popularity irrespective of one's opinion of the Filioque, unleavened bread, and the pope. "As a star of the West, [Saint Thomas] illumined the Church of Christ" in the words of hymnographer Janus Plousiadenos (thanks, Marko!). Basilios Bessarion may not have been an outright Thomist, but Scholasticism certainly influenced his speculative theology. Among opponents of Rome, Mark of Ephesus (accomplished in many things and remembered only for giving Rome the middle finger on the eve of Byzantium's fall) criticized Aquinas' rejection of the Immaculate Conception from Scotistic grounds.
Gennadius Scholarius recanted of his Scholasticism after leaving the Council of Florence without voting on any propositions to lead the separatist party back home. Yet, before Florence he sang Aquinas' praises:
"Would O excellent Thomas that you had not been born in the West. Then you would not have needed to defend the deviations of the Church there.... You would have been as perfect in theology as you are in ethics."According to Hugh Barbour O. Praem, Palamite emperor John VI took an interest in Thomas and patronized Demetrios Kydones' translation of the Summa contra gentiles. Two other opponents of the Florentine Union quoted Aquinas' arguments for the Incarnation and consecrated virginity word for word and without attribution; these two opponents, Makarios Makres and Joseph Bryennios, were cited as examples of fidelity to Orthodox tradition in a letter of Athonites monks against the ecumenism of the Greek patriarch.
Why were Palaiologan Orthodox so fond of Saint Thomas when their descendants today are not? It seems likely that, aside from where Thomas "needed to defend the deviations" of Rome, the Greeks perceived him as one of the highest expressions of their own approach to theology, to argument, and to reasoning. There was no antithetical relationship between reason and mysticism, between logic and tradition; there was only truth and falsehood, and Aquinas enunciated the former more eloquently and with greater edification than any other writer centuries forward or backward, East or West; his imitators were less successful.
A separate Scholastic tradition would develop in Russia, firmly separated from Rome and independent of Constantinople after the events of 1453. Russia lacked an indigenous theological tradition, relying instead on sparsely available translations of Greek writers. There was a need for stability in both church and state which the Scholastic method supplied. Today some writers consider these centuries as the "Western Captivity of Orthodoxy."
Now that we have seen Greek Christianity's well rooted similarities to Latin Scholasticism and their amenable history with Saint Thomas, the question remains why Aquinas has fallen out of favor and into disrepute with Orthodox theologians. The answer is simple: because Orthodox Christianity, not unlike modern Roman Catholic theology, is under the intellectual domain of a small clique of thinkers who do not represent their tradition in its entirety. I will close with a quote from Patrick Reardon, a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church:
What almost always passes for Orthodox theology among English-speaking Orthodox these days is actually just a branch of the larger Orthodox picture. Indeed, it tends sometimes to be rather sectarian.
"The Orthodox Church is an ancient castle, as it were, of which only two or three rooms have been much in use since about 1920. These two or three rooms were furnished by the Russian émigrés in Paris between the two World Wars. This furniture is heavily neo-Palamite and anti-Scholastic. It relies heavily on the Cappadocians, Maximus, and Gregory Palamas (who are good folks, or course). Anything that does not fit comfortably into that model is dismissed as Western and even non-Orthodox.
"Consequently, one will look in vain in that theology for any significant contribution from the Alexandrians, chiefly Cyril, and that major Antiochian, Chrysostom. When these are quoted, it is usually some incidental point on which they can afford to be quoted.
"Now I submit that any Orthodox theology that has so little use for the two major figures from Antioch and Alexandria is giving something less than the whole picture.
"Likewise, this popular neo-Palamite brand of Orthodoxy, though it quotes Damascene when it is convenient, never really engages Damascene’s manifestly Scholastic approach to theology.
"Much less does it have any use for the other early Scholastic theologians, such as Theodore the Studite and Euthymus Zygabenus. There is no recognition that Scholasticism was born in the East, not the West, and that only the rise of the Turk kept it from flourishing in the East.
"There is also no explicit recognition that the defining pattern of Orthodox Christology was formulated in the West before Chalcedon. Pope Leo’s distinctions are already very clear in Augustine decades before Chalcedon. Yet, Orthodox treatises on the history of Christology regularly ignore Augustine.
"Augustine tends to be classified as a Scholastic, which he most certainly was not.
But Western and Scholastic are bad words with these folks.
"In fact, however, Augustine and the Scholastics represent only other rooms in the larger castle.
"For this reason I urge you, as you can, to read in the Orthodox sources that tend to get skipped in what currently passes for Orthodoxy. For my part, I believe the Russian émigré theology from Paris, which seems profoundly reactionary and anti-Western, is an inadequate instrument for the evangelization of this country and the world. I say this while gladly recognizing my own debt to Russian émigré theology.