Charles Miller. The Gift of the World: An Introduction to the Theology of Dumitru Staniloae. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2000. Reviewed by George Hancock-Stefan.
Over 20 years ago I studied the doctrine of God with Professor Daniel Migliore at Princeton Theological Seminary. The required texts for the course were Hans Küng's Does God Exist? and Jürgen Moltmann's The Doctrine of the Trinity. Upon finding out that I was Romanian, Dr. Migliore mentioned that, in the estimation of Moltmann, one of the greatest theologians writing on the doctrine of the Trinity was Romanian Orthodox professor Dumitru Staniloae. Needless to say, I left the classroom elated that a Romanian commanded such high esteem.
Staniloae's three-volume magnum opus, Dogmatic Orthodox Theology, was translated into German and French before it began to be translated into English. First published in Romania in 1978, it now is being published in English translation by T. & T. Clark. The two volumes published in English to date are: The Experience of God (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Volume 1: Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God) and The Experience of God (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Volume 2: The World, Creation, and Deification). Not only Romanian Orthodox theologians have high regard for this work. Such leading Romanian evangelicals as Paul Negrut and Emil Bartos have written their Ph.D. dissertations on Orthodoxy and Staniloae: "The Development of the Concept of Authority within the Romanian Orthodox Church during the Twentieth Century," 1995, and "Deification in Eastern Orthodox Thought: An Evaluation and Critique of the Theology of Dumitru Staniloae," 1999. In addition, the Sixth Ecumenical Theological Symposium, held in 1999 in New York, addressed "The Theological Legacy of Father Dumitru Staniloae and Its Ecumenical Actuality."
In The Gift of the World, Charles Miller, an Anglican scholar and professor of theology at Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary, Nashotah, WI, has produced a succinct, well-written analysis of Staniloae's Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Miller's favorite adjective in this volume is "Maximian," after the Church Father, Maximus the Confessor. While foundational in the theology of Staniloae, Maximus, by contrast, receives scant or no mention in standard church history textbooks: Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language--no mention; Martin Marty's A Short History of Christianity--no mention; Justo Gonzales' The History of Christianity--no mention; Kenneth Scott Latourette's A History of Christianity, Vol. 1--one sentence.
Man and His World
Dumitru Staniloae grew up in Transylvania where an intertwined Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant milieu sharpened his Orthodox theology. While he regarded himself as a universal theologian, Staniloae wrote from a Romanian Orthodox perspective that he called "Eastern Latinity." A gifted linguist who wrote in five languages, he studied theology not only in Romania but also in Athens, Munich, and Paris. He appreciated Karl Barth, so influential in Europe at the time of his study in Germany (1928-29), from whom he gained "the affirmation of a living God, the affirmation of the transcendence of God before man."
During his theological training he concluded that seminary teaching and seminary texts did not equip students to face the world. He translated many patristic works into Romanian, including the Philokalia. Together with Nicolae Chitescu, Staniloae launched a revival of Romanian dogmatic theology in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. He taught at the Theological Institute in Sibiu (1938-1946) and at the Theological Institute in Bucharest (1946-1972), except for the years 1958-62, when he was imprisoned by the Communist regime. It was during this time that he became a student of hesychasm, an Orthodox mystical devotional tradition. Although he rarely traveled outside Romania, his best foreign friends were British Anglicans whom he visited in 1968-1969.
Never forgetting his peasant roots, Staniloae rarely used theological jargon in his writings. One of his students said: "Unlike other teachers who seemed to want to make the notions of God complicated, Fr. Staniloae insisted that the notion of God was really simple." Romanian Orthodox ecumenist Ion Bria, who places him in the same category as Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, and Edward Schillebeeckx, writes that Staniloae was unlike many other Orthodox theologians because he addressed contemporary issues, he favored comprehensible language over theological jargon, and he wrote theology in a personal, confessional style.
Creation and the Experience of God
The theme of creation, which pervades Staniloae's mature theological thought, is understood to be a source of both natural and supernatural revelation. From Maximus's Ambigua, Staniloae argues that natural laws have a spiritual dimension and that the natural and supernatural orders speak with one voice. Summarizing this concept, Miller writes, "The created world of Maximus (the Confessor) which Staniloae adopts as his own starting point, is a world which is, to use C. S. Lewis's apt phrase, 'drenched in deity.' "
The Liturgy of the Mind: Dogma and Theology
By writing dogmatic theology, Staniloae became diametrically opposed to Paul Tillich, who demanded its abdication. In fact, Staniloae sought to liberate dogmatic theology from all that prohibited it from becoming a genuine expression of the Christian faith. He argued that dogma has to be understood in a personalist way, with its content being the living Christ through the reality of the Incarnation and the Trinity. Dogma is not strictly quotable formulations. It requires living theological interaction between historic apostolic truths and the present and the future.
Rediscovering Cosmic Christianity
As has been noted, Staniloae placed great emphasis on solidarity between humanity and creation, drawing the conclusion that humanity is in a position to profoundly affect the entire cosmos. Humankind can either poison God's gift of creation by rejecting its solidarity with the created order, thus diminishing its spiritual potential, or it can labor within creation, showing respect for it. Thus, grapes, bread, wine, and oil given to God sacramentally are not only gifts to the Creator but they are objects imprinted with human labor. Here Staniloae is in the mainstream of the Orthodox tradition in affirming the whole natural order as destined for glory alongside redeemed humanity. Thus, mankind's priestly work is in solidarity with the created order.
In contrast to Luther, whose theology of the cross sees the importance of the created order until the crucified God gave full revelation of God, Staniloae develops the theology of the cross through continuity between natural and supernatural revelation. According to Staniloae, "Without the cross man would be in danger of considering this world as the ultimate reality. . . . The cross completes the fragmentary meaning of this world which has meaning when it is seen as a gift."
Sacrament and Church
One can say that Staniloae's theology is eucharistic because it is in the mystery of the sacrament that mankind can comprehend an "active presence" of the "absolutely Transcendent" in the world and in its midst. Staniloae writes, "The Church takes shape as a body formed from believers to whom Christ gives himself fully in the Eucharist." However, this eucharistic body is not introverted, but extroverted as it seeks the whole universe. "The gifts of bread and wine, indeed the gift of ourselves, will by the transfiguring Spirit, include the whole of a transformed and transfigured humanity and creation."
Staniloae's Contribution: In Summary
Evangelical as well as Orthodox Christians have much to gain from Staniloae. They will observe that in the midst of Communist persecution a godly man was able to produce superb theology; that earth as well as heaven proclaims God's glory; and that the writings of the church fathers have much to offer Christians of all confessions. Evangelical Christians also can take heart that someone such as Dumitru Staniloae, in a little known corner of the world, courageously confronted a theologian like Paul Tillich and demonstrated that, when done right, dogma still deserves and commands attention. Finally, Evangelical Christians should be pleased to make the acquaintance of a respected Orthodox theologian who took the study of Scripture seriously and who sought the validation of Scripture for his conclusions.
George Hancock-Stefan is pastor of Central Baptist Church, Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He also is an adjunct professor at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and New York Evangelical Seminary, New York. His 1997 Ph.D. dissertation from Trinity International University addressed "The Impact of Reformation on the Romanian People from 1517-1645 (Wittenberg to Iasi)."
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