Zizioulas' Dogmatics Lectures

Sense again meets reader in Metropolitan John’s (Zizioulas) latest text in translation. Superb editing by Dr. Douglas H. Knight, coupled with a succinct introduction by the same, should move this book to the top of any reading list among students of theology, ecumenism, international politics, sociology, economics, languages and cultures.

Chapters were compiled across three decades by the author’s students in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Thessalonika. Therefore, references are far less in number than prior books, but scholarship and precision in language are no less exact. In effect, the method of inquiry is a three-decade long conversation with students, to whom the author dedicates the book. Mainstays of Metropolitan John’s “dogmatic hermeneutics” are collected in this book. These include the nature of dogma, doctrine of God and personhood, creation and salvation, and the Church. His approach identifies a relational method by which dogmatics might be interpreted by every age of history, including our own. Relations, he argues, stem from the “what” and “how” of God. God creates and saves according to divine substance or essence (“what”), but divine substance cannot be known. Instead, divine substance must manifest in a particular way, which is to say that God makes known three Persons. Of course, these ideas do not originate with Metropolitan John, but rather with a group of faithful Christians called the Cappadocian Fathers. However, the author does not simply re-state the Fathers. He presents dogma in fresh light.

Thank you, Edward M. Freeman, for that most discerning review

To interpret the Christian faith to the world around

This book does not claim to be a systematic theology, and unlike my previous books, does not contain references to other authors, except to Biblical and Patristic sources. It is written primarily for undergraduate students, although I hope that other theologians may find it useful too.

Orthodox theology in our time must operate in an ecumenical context and so in dialogue with other Christian traditions. And it cannot take place in a cultural vacuum that ignores current philosophical trends, and it cannot simply repeat the traditions of the past.

It is unfortunate that much of todayâ??s Orthodox theology is in fact nothing but history â?? a theologically uncommitted scholar could have done this kind of â??theologyâ?? just as well or even better. Although this kind of â??theologyâ?? claims to be faithful to the Fathers and tradition, it is in fact contrary to the method followed by the Fathers themselves. For the Fathers worked in constant dialogue with the intellectual trends of their time to interpret the Christian faith to the world around them. This is precisely the task of Orthodox theology in our time too.

In the lectures contained in this volume Christian doctrine is approached as a tradition that comes to us from the past but which is interpreted in a way that answers the needs of human beings in our own time, particularly in the context of Western culture. It is an attempt at dogmatic hermeneutics that aims to answer this question: what would the Fathers say to us today in response to our own concerns, as these are shaped by our own culture?

Metropolitan John Zizioulas – ‘Preface’, Lectures in Christian Dogmatics (and UK)

To be with the saints

Christians have a relationship of direct and personal familiarity with the Church and the saints. The relationship is personal and involves our entire being, not merely our minds or feelings. Yet when someone lights a candle or makes an offering, you will often hear someone remark that such an action is meaningless if that person is not thinking the right set of thoughts or experiencing the right set of feelings.
However, we must be clear that it is not our thoughts or feelings that make everything what it is: what is significant is that we have left home and come to Church to meet the saints. The liturgy is simply the realisation of our relationship to God, the whole communion of his saints and the entire world. Its purpose is not simply to grasp something intellectually or emotionally or arrive at some particular state of mind. When the congregation signs themselves with the Cross each time a saint is mentioned this shows that, even if they are not thinking the right thoughts or experiencing the right emotions, they enjoy a living relationship with that saint simply by being there together with the other members of the community.

The Bishop

Gathered around the bishop the presbyters are the image of the apostles, pointing us to Christ. The presbyters’ first task therefore was teaching, convening assemblies, preaching and catechizing. Saint John Chrysostom and Origen have left us the homilies they preached as presbyters. While bishops gave us our liturgies and in particular the anaphoras, the Eucharistic prayers of offering, presbyters taught, preached and looked after the administration of the Church, and together with the bishop, were members of the synod of the Church in that place.
However, this arrangement did not last long. By the third century the Church was beginning to take a different course, particularly in the West, as evidenced by Cyprian. The notion of the bishops as the image of Christ changed in favour of the idea that they were the image of the apostles. Nowadays a bishop is regarded as a successor to the apostles, so his primary responsibility is to teach. However, Saint Ignatius says that it is not the bishop who does the teaching and that we should respect the silence, which according to Ignatius’s understanding, the bishop maintains for everything apart from the anaphora of the divine Eucharist, which is his responsibility solely.
This contemporary view that the primary role of the bishop is teaching and only secondarily the Eucharist, is a clear divergence from the historic understanding of the Church. In the West in particular, teaching
became the bishop’s chief role, while the celebrating the liturgy was handed over to the presbyters. Thus in the West the priest performs the liturgy, while the bishop is primarily a manager, who exhausts himself in the administration of the Church. Here is a very significant divergence from the eschatological understanding of the bishop.

More eschatology

This is a piece for a volume on eschatology edited by John Manoussakis and Neal Deroo to be published by Ashgate in 2009

The Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas is most often associated with the Christian doctrine of the person. The concept of the person holds together the two issues of communion and freedom. Zizioulas argues that if there is one person there must be many persons: the concept is intrinsically plural, relational and yet safeguards our particularity. By making a distinction between person and individual, Zizioulas contrasts the human who is related and integrated, and the human who is disengaged and isolated from all others. According to Christian doctrine, Christ is the person in whom we may all be persons. Christ comes to individuals without relation to anyone else, and brings them into communion so that they become persons, related to all others, indeed related to everything that is not themselves. This catholic being who is simultaneously one and many is coming into being in history, and at the eschaton will turn out to be truth of all humanity. In Christ, time and history move towards this reconciliation in which all creatures discover their proper unity and difference; this coming together of all things makes itself known in history in the Church and in the event of the eucharist. For Christian theology, the concept of the person relates to time and purpose and so to eschatology. His confidence in the theology of the Greek Fathers enables Zizioulas to lay out the logic of the Christian doctrine of the person with the utmost clarity, and it is this that makes his account of personhood distinctive and rewarding. More…

Ashgate say that they have sold the rights to The Theology of John Zizioulas to a Greek publisher. If Ashgate can sell a Greek to the Greeks I am sure they will find a big market for this American phenomenology. (No, I don’t know either). Selling a little British theology to the Brits, though – who is up to that?

The image of the eschaton

This is why the Church must safeguard the eucharist from new introductions. I remember in one of my first visits to Mount Athos I heard a psalm of lament being sung during holy communion. I expressed my surprise to the Prior of the monastery, and when he looked into it they found that this order had been introduced in the nineteenth century. As soon as they realised this, they took it out again and restored the original order. You simply cannot sing ‘my soul is ailing from many sins’ during the most joyous and majestic eschatological moment of holy communion. We must sing ‘Praise the Lord in the highest, Alleluia’. There can be no hymn more triumphant than ‘Alleluia’. We cannot introduce changes without risk to the image of the eschaton, which is what this gathering is. The very fact that you go to Church, and take your place in this assembly, means that you are part of this image of the end times, which the whole Church presents to the world.

Patriarch and Zizioulas on tour

The Saint-Serge Institute in Paris has awarded the title of Docteur Honoris Causa to Metropolitan John Zizioulas. Here are details and video of his acceptance speech. Bishop John responded with ‘La contribution de la théologie orthodoxe occidentale’ (PDF). The Laudatio by Michel Stavrou included this:

Il faut noter que votre style littéraire est simple et dépouillé, cultivant presque une esthétique de la pauvreté. Quant à votre réflexion, tout en s’alimentant chez les Pères et dans la tradition canonique et liturgique, elle est en prise étroite avec la philosophie et la culture contemporaines, et se déploie en dialogue constant avec des théologiens de différents horizons, cherchant, sans crispation confessionnelle, à mettre en lumière la tradition indivise de l’Eglise ancienne.

Comme en retour, vos travaux ont fait l’objet d’une quarantaine d’articles de théologiens de toutes confessions et également d’une douzaine d’ouvrages (excusez du peu) dont le dernier paru, The Theology of John Zizioulas, édité par l’anglais Douglas Knight en 2007, regroupe en 200 pages les évaluations de 12 théologiens anglicans, réformés, catholiques et orthodoxes.

Meanwhile Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been at the Pontifical Oriental Institute to give a paper Theology, Liturgy and Silence. Asia news gives an account of Patriarch and Metropolitan in Rome.

I owe these links to Matthew Baker (St Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary), this blog’s editor of Orthodox Affairs

John Zizioulas Lectures in Christian Dogmatics

The Zizioulas Lectures in Christian Dogmatics are on their way. That marvellous publisher, T & T Clark, has promised to get the book out in October (2008).

Here is something from the Editor’s Introduction

Man was given the freedom of God to decide freely, and on behalf of all creation, for participation in the communion and life of God. Because all creation makes up his body, materiality gets to participate in man’s decision and so receive God’s uncreated life in freedom. So man is able to unite created materiality to the communion of God that overcomes all limits, and so secure creation’s continued life. Christ is the one who is able to establish and sustain relationship with all men, and brings each into relationship with all others, and unites within himself all creation to God. He is the truth of man and creation, sustained through all limits by the invincible communion of God.

Although Christ is the whole reality of human being, he does not force himself upon us. He appears amongst us as one person amongst others, and so as someone we can reject or accept as we like. We can withhold our acknowledgment of him or, in faith, we can recognise him for who he is. When we concede Christ his otherness, and acknowledge that he shares the freedom of God, this opens the possibility that we understand that all persons are different from us, not our creatures but creatures of God. As we concede the otherness and freedom of every human being we gain our own true freedom.

Here is the Contents page

Meanwhile the T & T Clark blog has a link to Liviu Barbu’s review of Zizioulas’s Communion and Otherness in the Heythrop Journal

You can find plenty more in The Theology of John Zizioulas. You can see the book at Google Book, but curiously mis-assigned to the title ‘Paul’s Necessary Sin’

Why not ask your college librarian to order a copy from Ashgate? You know one blogger who would be very grateful.


It is perhaps our usual assumption that we exist first, and then that we love. But let us imagine that our existence depends on our relationship with those we love. The more we love, or the more we are loved, the more existence or reality we acquire. Our being derives from the company of those who love us, and if they begin to love us less, we begin to disappear. Love is not a passion or emotion. Love is communion, made up of those relationships that give us our existence. Only love can continue to sustain us when all the material threads of life are broken and we are without any other support. If these threads are not reconnected we cease to exist; death is the snapping of the last thread. Love, or communion with other persons, is stronger than death and is the source of our existence. That ‘God is love‘ means that God is the communion of this holy trinity. God the Father would lose his identity and being if he did not have the Son. If we took away the communion of the trinity to make God a unit, God would not be communion and therefore would not be love.

John Zizioulas Lectures in Christian Dogmatics

The rule of Christ

When we refer to the remembering of the future we part ways with the whole Western intellectual tradition. The Church confesses that Holy Spirit brings the future breaking in to history. Our kingdoms are founded on opposition to one another, each kingdom is in competition with every other. The peace of God, sustained by the rule of God, breaks into the conflict of all partial kingdoms. The Holy Spirit invades the territory we hold against all others, and brings us into the rule and the peace of God. ‘In these last days, I shall pour forth from My Spirit, upon every flesh.’ The Spirit brings all other rules and kingdoms, under the rule of Christ which brings the peace of Christ by which all things are reconciled and made peaceful. Christ brings the rule and peace of God into history. Pentecost is the fulfilment of all times.

Though many Christians assume that Pentecost and the Holy Spirit illuminate them personally, enabling them to grasp the events of history and so grow in knowledge of Christ, but this is only a partial understanding. The Spirit carries us into a new and much larger dimension, in which we are freed of all the various confinements that hold us within our individual histories or the histories of our nation or social group. The Spirit draws us into the vastly larger dimensions given by the future, in which we are free to be fully present to one another, each of us to all others without limit. The life the Holy Spirit gives us is not divided, but all at once, so for the first time we may live simultaneous to one another, in communion not delimited by space or time.

John Zizioulas Lectures in Christian Dogmatics