Some years ago an Orthodox student of mine expressed the wish that an Orthodox theologian would write theology in such a way that nobody could tell that it had come from an Orthodox pen.

I sympathized with the wish then, and I sympathize with it now.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s possible. It’s impossible to write from a neutral perspective. It’s a truism, but still worth repeating:  we all write from the place or places we inhabit – mentally, spiritually, traditionally, emotionally, geographically.

I think that my student’s desire was for an Orthodox theologian to write in a non-sectarian way. In other words, to write from a catholic perspective. This I think is possible. It’s not only possible, it’s necessary. There is still a debate within Orthodoxy about the meaning of catholicity. Unfortunately, that debate has been shaped by nationalism and the desire to articulate a distinctive identity in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

I think it was Afanasiev who famously defined Catholicism and Protestantism in terms of A and not-A. I wonder, though, if Orthodoxy hasn’t become the “not-A.” That is, we have defaulted to self-definition in terms of negation.

Advertisements