Thursday, March 9, 2017

Eugenios Voulgaris by Fr. George Metallinos

One of the main purposes of this blog is to highlight theologians and aspects of Orthodox theology that are not normally given enough attention. After talking with a priest-friend of mine about Vikentios Damados and Eugenios Voulgaris, I thought it would be enlightening to translate this brief article about a rather misunderstood figure within the Roman Orthodox tradition, Eugenios Voulgaris. As Fr. George states here, while he critically engaged with the modern thought coming out of the West, he was in no way a slavish follower of its trends. Originally I was going to translate the footenotes, but this delayed me from putting this on here for literally weeks. I hope this short article spurs further research into another great theologian of our church.

The Theology of a Great Teacher of the Roman People: Eugenios Voulgaris

By Fr. George Metallinos

Eugenios Voulgaris, an illumined spirit, of Orthodox conscience, contributed greatly through his diverse works to the awakening of Hellenism. In the current article, we approach this important personality as a theologian, an aspect of his work which has not received sufficient attention in scholarly research where focus is usually restricted to his role in the course of the Greek Enlightenment.

Eugenios Voulgaris [1] was introduced to theology [as an academic discipline] beyond his personal relationship with the Holy Scripture and the patristic tradition by the clergymen Antonios Katiforos and Ieremias Kavvadias [2] who were his first teachers and by the Lixourian, Vikentios Damodos, [3] with whom he a spent one of his most formative years. […]

We know that Eugenios Voulgaris taught theology in Ioannina (1742-49, 1751-52/53) where he began his teaching career. His instructional program does not seem to have been modified during his short break in Kozani (1750-51/52). Regarding the Athoniada [the school on Mount Athos], it is not clear that he taught theology, because it is not clearly documented but can only be concluded indirectly. Granted of course that according to the witness of his student at the school of St. Athanasios Parios (1721-1813), he was no longer using his “theologikon” [textbook of theology] [5] giving some validity to this doubt. Nevertheless in the sigillium of Patriarch Kyrillos V [6] promulgated in May of 1850 [7] which regulated the operation of the School, theology is explicitly included in the program of studies: “a school for Greek language, education, and instruction of every type, in the sciences of logic, philosophy, and theology” is given charter for its foundation. […]

The sources tell us nothing about the independent instruction of theology [as a discipline] and it is curious that we have Voulgaris’ “theologikon” from the first stage of his teaching [career], while we have no such documentation from his time at the Athoniada. It is certain that alongside the positive sciences (arithmetic, geometry, physics, and cosmography) he taught also logic, introduction to philosophy and metaphysics. [8]

Neverthless, it is hard to believe that at the School on Mount Athos theological instruction would have been limited to the study of metaphysics--something which the existence of the “Theologikon” and the “Confesion” does not allow.

Besides, in his Logic, Philosophy is differentiated radically from Theology. On the one hand, Philosophy is “knowledge of things divine and human” which ought to give reason for the existence of God, but never enter into the realm of “mystical theology” which is known only by divine revelation. [9]

This “mystical theology” described in his “Theologikon”[10] must have been taught by Vouglaris at the Athoniada. Moreover, Athanasios Parios in his “Epitome”, explaining that Voulgaris did not use his Theologikon, he does not deny that he was instructed in the rudiments of theology by his great Teacher. [11]

Voulgaris composed many works with theological content. [12] Not a single of work of his can be found, even from among his non-theological works, which does not contain theological interventions, including within his purely “scientific” works. His work as a theologian dominates his entire output as a writer, so that we may be sure that it was not merely “something accidental” [to his identity] that he was a clergyman as some contend. This has been thoroughly documented by Martin Knapp. [14]

His basic theological works are his “Theologikon” [15] and his “Confession” [16], where his theology is represented in its prime form. These works alone were enough to obtain a place for Voulgaris within the still theologically vacillating Greek 18th century. [17] As a theologian, Voulgaris remains, according to Podskalsky, “derivative” and not original, but this judgment, originating as it does from a Jesuit scholar, is based on a western understanding of [what it means to be a] philosophical theologian rather than the patristic one, centered chiefly on the continuation of the tradition and not on impressing by one’s originality. The renewed expression of the tradition for each age is the goal of the Orthodox theologian. […]

Voulgaris’ faithfulness to the tradition
His traditionalism permeates all of his works and particularly in his theology. He writes as a champion of the faith of the Church. Of course we know that traditionalism and patristic character cannot be discerned primarily from texts but by someone’s existential relationship to the living tradition expressed in his ascetic-liturgical life. Serious researchers are able to speak to this aspect of his character as well.

For example, Podskalsky recognizes in Voulgaris “a love for hesychastic monasticism.” [19] Our own [Greek] scholars, Basil Tatakis [20] and Kitromilidis [21] view him as an inheritor of the mystical theology of the Orthodox East. Knapp sees him as “one hundred percent rooted in traditional Orthodoxy, not only as regards dogma, but also with regard to ecclesiastical practice.” [22] Orthodox theologians, B. Makridis and Fr. Eirinaios Delidimos, [likewise agree with this evaluation.]

His famous and often cited expressions, both sincere and enlightening, “I risk becoming also a lover of church-services” and “because I am not… a faster” are but witticisms of one possessing a strong sense of humor, patristic and characteristic of himself. We cannot accept the judgment of Patriarch Dimaras of Constantinople (of blessed memory) who claims that in [Voulgaris’] understanding of Orthodoxy “we think him to be more akin to the liberalizing Catholic abbots of his era than a monk of the Holy Mountain.” [27]

Goudas presents him as a lover of church-services, [28] and Tatakis does not hesitate to write concerning him that, “Vouglaris shows himself to be a prime example of the modern Greek intellectual who goes to the West, receives its philosophy and science, but sacrifices nothing of his Greek Orthodox heritage.” [29]

His Orthodox identity shows, as was said, in his consistent employment of the distinction between the divine essence and the uncreated divine energy, [30] the absence from his work of the analogia entis, [31] his teaching concerning the vision of God (theoptia-theosis) and in other ways. In his short work “Concerning the where of Paradise and the where of Hell and what these are” [32] he defines, in accordance with Orthodox teaching, “the place of the soul after death” as a “condition” in which the soul leaving the present life “in piety and faith, in repentance and confession, justified by the grace of God,” “has the pledge of the perfect rest, enlightened by God, a glorified (glory=theosis)[…] interlocutor with the angels, accompanied by the prophets and Apostles and Martyrs and the whole choir of the just.”

He bases these reflections on his reading of Luke 16:19-31 (the parable of the rich man and the poor man, Lazarus) and culminate with the rejection of the Latin “purgatory” as a “third place of purification” closing with the counsel “believe only that they are (paradise and hell) and do not inquire as to the where!”

Even in his work, “Concerning Music,” [33] he is concerned with strengthening the tradition, differentiating the music of the Church from that of Western Christendom. He fully identifies himself with the hesychastic tradition of theological reflection and practice in his Epistle “To Klairkios” [34] where his account concerning the saints and sanctity, concerning rudimentary miracles, such as holy bread and holy water, the holy relics, and others. After all, Orthodox patristic thought is not the mere fruit of human reflection, but is founded on these realities that testify to the presence of the Uncreated in the created.

His publications evince a similar stance. Not only did he publish complex authors such as Theodoros of Cyrus [35] whose themes include saints’ lives or monastic texts worthy of attention, but he shows particular love for the great hesychast, Joseph Vryennios. [36] Consequently, he cannot be considered “cut off from the lived-out ecclesiastical experience of the people and of his place” [37] as one may think if one only read his epistles.

It is impossible moreover to compare the situation of Vouglaris who was forced by his circumstances to live many years away from Greece itself (did this not also happen to others including Korais?), with the Kollyvades Fathers who were remained at the epicenter of developments inside of Greece.

His clear place within the ecclesiastical tradition

Voulgaris’ references to Papism, Papists and Papolaters [38] are frequent. He considers Papism the greatest undoing of Christianity and an immediate threat to Orthodoxy. [39]

For this reason, he did not limit himself to writing only academic refutations but also popular anti-Latin works in an attempt to inform the Orthodox faithful who found themselves under the immediate influence of papal elements, chief among them, the Unia. Such a work was his “Booklet Against the Latins” which was sent to the Serbian Orthodox of Austro-Hungary [40] where he demonstrates the falseness of Papism calling on the faithful to reject their attempts at proselytizing, not hesitating to prefer martyrdom as a means of safeguarding their Orthodox faith.

His Discourse “On Saint Andrew” [41] has a similar character. His “Confession” and his “Response” [42] also contain anti-Latin elements as well as his translations from Russian. [43] Even in his “Outline Concerning Religious Toleration” he inserts antipapal elements, chiefly in the notes which follow his translation of the relevant work by Voltaire. [44]

This translation essentially serves his antipapal aims and goals. Podskalsky characterizes Voulgaris as “fiercely anti-Latin” and even includes him among the portion of the adherents of re-baptism [45] [for the Latins]. It is certainly a fact that in his anti-Latin stance he is closer to Damodos than Athanasios Parios.

How he was different from the anti-Orthodox tendencies of the Enlightenment

It is a serious error to classify Voulgaris as a ‘philosophe’ of the Enlightenment as so often happens to him and even to St. Kosmas Aitolos in the realm of education. Voulgaris’ openness to European science was a purely patristic stance [46] and does not at all mean that Voulgaris can be confined to the category of the Enlightenment or be identified with the full range of this multifaceted movement.

The Enlightenment was for Voulgaris “a challenging field for knowledge but never an acceptable worldview.” [47]

Even in issues of purely scientific importance he remained critical of the Enlightenment, remaining faithful to the tradition of the Holy Fathers. [48] His attitude toward scientific research is illustrated clearly in his “Against the Latins”: “What does the wisdom of the world have in common with the wisdom of God? The wisdom of the world is delusion, nonsense, it is foolishness according to Paul when it is separated from the wisdom of God, the truth faith. This is truly wisdom, sure wisdom, without error or fault, upright wisdom.” [49]

The judgment of Martin Knapp, an expert in the thought of Voulgaris, inclines the same way. He correctly states that “Voulgaris’ “involvement in the issues surrounding the Natural Sciences is not equivalent to being a part of the Enlightenment.” [50]

Voulgaris’ thought always has its center of gravity in the Theology of the Church. This even shows in his occupation with the works of Voltaire. He translates Voltaire’s works but exclusively those parts most timely and which are identical with the faith of the Church and contribute to his own aims. […] Voulgaris’ stance always remains critical. [53] […]

Openness to society and to modern reality

He accomplished this chiefly in his “Outline Concerning Religious Tolerance.” In this work, he confronts the social phenomenon and abuse of religion in society by political authority. In this way, he is able to connect theology and the problem societal status. [54

Of course, unable to surpass the limitations of his time, Voulgaris does not reach our contemporary notion of religious freedom, [55] but he does manage to distinguish himself from the various western authorities (Lock, Voltaire, etc) and be led to the “sentiment that only tolerance and mutual respect between [different] spiritual understandings can safeguard peace in society.”

In the work of Voulgaris, “the notion of tolerance, as a fundamental ideal of European liberalism” [56] passes into Greek society, [57] filtered however by his Orthodox conscience.

In the same way he distinguishes his position from that of the Deists. He condemns the interlinking of spiritual and worldly authority, he denies the proposals of Petavius (“violence against all false religions”), but also of Bernard of Clairvaux (“arguments instead of weapons”), coming to his own conclusion that when the spiritual means of the Church do not suffice, strict penalties (excepting death) may be imposed by the State therapeutically. [58] Chiefly, he is at variance with Voltaire: the tolerant man of Voulgaris is a zealot of piety, not indifferent. “The indifferent man is not tolerant, but irreligious.” [59]

In the end, he gives his own definition: Religious tolerance is “lenient and meek disposition of the soul of the pious man who with knowledge according to zeal toward those violating the things of faith employs understanding and purposeful means toward their correction. Taking custody for them, he tolerates those who are insubordinate with longsuffering and patience, feeling compassion for their loss, promoting rather than impeding the loosing of their corruption, but never tyrannically and inhumanly becoming angry with them.” [60] He does not reach the idea of religious freedom, but as a trailblazer he opens the way for it.

Biographical Note

Born on the 11th of August in the year 1716 in Kerkyra (Corfu) from parents from Zakynthos. Studies: First in Kerkyra, then in Arta, Ioannina, near the well-known teachers of his era (Antonios Katiforos, Vikentios Damodos, and Ieremias Kavvadias). Higher education in Padua (Italy) and particularly ancient Greek, Latin, and Hebrew philology, theology, positive sciences, foreign languages, and above all modern philosophy (Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Frederich Wolf). 1737: Ordained to the diaconate. 1742: He returns from his studies in Italy and begins teaching at various education foundations in the Ottoman Empire: Ioannina (1742-46), Kozani (1746-50), Ioannina (1750-52), Mount Athos—Athoniada (1753-59), Constantinople—Great School of the [Roman] Race (1759-61). 1762: He departs disappointed by the persecution he faced for Vlachia and from there to Leipsia. 1772: Upon the invitation of Tsarina Catherine II, he departs from Berlin where he was living for St. Petersburg. 1776: Ordained in Moscow Archbishop of Slavinios and Hersonos. 1787: He resigns as Archbishop offering his position to his compatriot, the wise Nikiphoros Theotokis. He returns to St. Petersburg where becomes a member of the Imperial Academy and dedicates himself entirely to study and writing. 1802: He cloisters himself in the Lavra of St. Alexander (Nevsky) until his death (1806).


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