Lecturer Honors Memory of Dean Schmemann
Professor Paul Valliere, author of Modern Russian Theology: Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov, Orthodox Theology in a New Key presented the 18th Annual Fr Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture at the seminary on the Feast of the Three Hierarchs. Dr Valliere is the McGregor Professor of Humanities in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.
In his presentation, titled Russian Religious Thought and the Future of Orthodox Theology, Dr Valliere analyzed the prominent figures and aims within the 'Russian School of Theology,' a movement which began about the second half of the 19th century and continued to about 1944. Key figures in the movement included Vladimir Soloviev, Nikolai Berdiaev, Pavel Florensky and Sergei Bulgakov. Appropriation of Western philosophical thought, an urgency regarding theological engagement with the secular world, and a revival of apocalyptic and theocratic material marked their theology. According to Valliere, the term, 'Russian School' was coined by Fr Alexander Schmemann twenty-five years ago, who identified this movement as able to "transpose theology into a new key," a theology capable of confronting a modern world.
"Theology must involve the secular world," said Valliere, "something the 'Russian School' referred to as 'cosmodicy', that is, the idea that the Church and the world stand in relation to one another." This engagement, he argued, cannot be supplied by the current 'Neo-patristic School' of theology, which has dominated Orthodox theological thought for the last half of the twentieth century and which has as its goal the revival of the teachings of the church fathers. Prominent twentieth century figures such as Fr Georges Florovsky and Fr Vladimir Lossky, as proponents of the 'Neo-patristic School,' severely criticized the authors of the 'Russian School,' stated Valliere, but it is precisely this latter framework that might resuscitate the effectiveness of the Church in contemporary society.
Valliere observed that the 'Russian School' theologians resembled the church fathers in their methodology of appropriation, analysis, and application of philosophical thought. These Russian thinkers went beyond patristic writings to engage their contemporary world. "They focused on the 'problem of the cosmos' as they termed it," he said. "This is why the 'Russian School' holds treasures for both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox Western Christians."
When thanking Professor Valliere for his lecture, Fr Thomas Hopko noted that Fr Schmemann cannot be placed in any particular category. "He learned from everyone, and identified fully with no one," Fr Hopko said. "He also agonized over the acrimony that so often existed which he saw to be sad and unnecessary."
So let me rephrase my queries: Is Neo-Patristic School (Florovsky, Lossky) of theology insufficent for effective " engagement" with the world? Have the current theological leadership at SVOTS (led by Dean Erickson) gone "beyond patristic writings to engage their contemporary world" and have Florovsky and Lossky been relegated to "old school" status within the OCA?