I love reading about Eastern Orthodoxy, scripture, and nonfiction works that challenge me to expand my view of the world.
Augustine Casiday, Remember the Days of Old: Orthodox Thinking on the Patristic Heritage (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2014). Pp. 198. Paperback $20.00.
The description of this book sounded very intriguing to me. Here’s how it was advertised: “The faith of the orthodox Christian is ‘apostolic,’ in that it is continuous with the faith of the first century apostles. But to be truly apostolic it must be sent into the world, speaking to each new age. In this fresh and innovative work, Augustine Casiday shows us what it means to re-appropriate the wisdom of the Fathers and to give their words new life in a new age.” As a priest who is tasked to preach every week, this book sounded invaluable. One of my greatest challenges is to articulate the faith in a way that engages modern people. Did this book help? Yes, and no. Let me explain.
Casiday starts with a chapter explaining what he means by “Patristic Heritage.” Though interesting, I’m not sure it was needed. I think he could have explained what he meant by the terms a few short paragraphs. He also used this chapter to explain how modern Orthodox academics have used the Church Fathers: the Neo-Patristic Synthesis (Florovsky) vs. the Russian Religious Philosophy (Bulgakov). Again, interesting, but it seemed only to be “extra” for what was promised in the advertising of the book.
The next chapter takes the reader into territory that seems much more pertinent to the topic. Here he decided to see how later Church Fathers have used earlier Church Fathers in hopes of discovering a methodology that could be adaptable for us. He first explores St. Vincent of Lérins and concludes that St. Vincent encouraged advancement of theology (what I would call, clearer articulation), but noted that this is much different than change in theology. Next he looks at St. Maximus the Confessor and how St. Maximus uses texts by St. Gregory. Casidy concludes that St. Maximus’s approach was to make clearer definitions of what St. Gregory had written to show that it was indeed in line with proper Orthodox theology. Finally, Casidy looks at how St. Photius the Great used Church Fathers to combat the Latin theologians who defended the filioque, also using earlier Church Fathers. Through this study, Casidy shows how St. Photius is able to articulate that the Church Fathers were not infallible. In other words, he shows that one can still be a saint through living a life centered on Christ, while still having flaws in one’s teaching.
In chapter three Casidy turns to a discussion of symbols and how they function for a group. He discusses both physical symbols, and texts as symbols, e.g., the Creed. He notes that they serve to unify a group as well as to point to something beyond itself, something that is absent. One would expect him to say that symbols can act as a guideline in articulating theology in the modern world. However, using established Church Fathers he is able to show that one can be “Orthodox” even if a symbol is absent, or if a symbol has had an addition. His point was to show that symbols are incomplete and they shouldn’t trap us; we are free to continue to articular – to advance – theology in our own day. In some ways, however, this chapter may be been better adapted to a book about the relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
In Chapter four, Casidy brings the discussion to the 20th century. He looks specifically at the theology of Metropolitan John (Zizioulas). What was especially interesting in this chapter was that some believe Met. John to be advancing Orthodox theology – as discussed previously in the book – while others argue he is misreading the Church Fathers. However, this section ends a bit frustratingly because Casidy refuses to comment on how well he thinks Met. John did at articulating the Fathers in a modern era. Casidy only ends this section with a question. Finally, he ends this chapter by looking at how St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil adapted monastic asceticism to the “regular” people of their time. This is clearly a study of faith in action.
Finally, in the conclusion, Casidy states, “The question is not whether modern Orthodox theology should be influenced by Christian antiquity, but how it should be influenced” (pg. 193). His answer? Well, it’s simply to keep studying Patristics, languages, history, philosophy, and culture (as if that’s all!) and to do so with a spiritual discipline of carefulness, humility, patience, honesty, and integrity.
In short, I think this book less about how to engage the Church Fathers, and more about not being afraid to engage them. Was this needed? Well, I suppose it depends on who you are and what your stance is on the past!