Theological Hermeneutics, the word of God and contemporary world
Hermeneutics plays a dominant role in human intellectual reflection. Making use of various methods, humans attempt to hermeneutically define the surrounding reality, seeking to obtain the best possible understanding of their space-time existence, past and present. At the same time humans try to capture the deeper existential meaning and truth of their existence, seeking ultimately to reach, in the course of interpretation, the openness of the future. However, one is also naturally inclined to interpret whatever may exist beyond the surrounding reality, in other words what lies beyond one’s senses and experience, trying thus to satisfy an innate tendency towards the search of ultimate truth. What is then formed is a tri-polar pattern, consisted by three poles: God, humans and the surrounding world. That is precisely the network of relations where the demanding and sometimes painful
hermeneutic process occurs, having as its starting point the rational human subject, which seeks to “explain” and capture the wholistic truth of reality.
Theology could not be absent from the wide spectrum of hermeneutical process. Regardless of the variety of its connotations, theology relates primarily to the talk about God (Theology par excellence), the way of interpreting reality as a whole (creation, humans, history), and finally the way of defining and mediating this truth in a particular historical context (the process of “translation” according to J. Habermas). This implies that theology is always searching for the most appropriate way of approaching and interpreting truth in Christ, as recorded and preserved in the apostolic and ecclesiastical tradition and proleptically experienced as eschatological foretaste in the Eucharist. Its aim is to offer the Gospel as a timely, but primarily soteriological useful message in every age. Theology is therefore a hermeneutical work par excellence, to the extent that it seeks to find the proper conceptual tools, to form the necessary conditions and to determine the inviolable criteria that will make convenient and “effective” the respective contemporary reception and incarnation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Despite the obvious importance of hermeneutics, a careful look at the history of Orthodox theology shows that it actually has faced with caution - if not with negation - the dynamics of hermeneutical work, thus often becoming a fruitless philological preoccupation with texts and monuments of the past; a barren “theology of repetition”. The early decades of the 20th century, however, signal a change. Due to the theological call for a “neo-patristic synthesis” and plea for the renewal of Orthodox theology by the great Russian theologian of the diaspora, Fr. Georges Florovsky, and also the wider revival of biblical, patristic, liturgical and other studies in the West, Orthodox theology tentatively begins to revisit its inner relationship with hermeneutics, albeit not always with courage and consistency (cf. the First Congress of Orthodox Theology in Athens, 1936).
The search for an appropriate hermeneutical method that seems to have occupied Christian theology from its early stages had inevitably a decisive influence on the relevant Orthodox thinking. Further, upheaval on all levels of human life, such as technological development, explosion of religious radicalism, the “post-truth” narrative, and others, seem to render urgent the discussion concerning the formation of appropriate premises in relation to a serious and careful re-consideration of the nature, methodology and character of modern Orthodox theology, with special reference to the way of reception and “translation” of the word of God itself.
In the present century Orthodox theology, overcoming the diverse entanglements of the past, seeks to creatively and critically relate vis-a-vis its subject, i.e. the incarnate Word of God Himself, and also the surrounding world, in order to assess whether it remains a “Christian” enterprise and not just an Orthodox theology (in a cultural and denominational sense), ultimately pursuing the constant incarnation of God’s word by the power of the Spirit.
In this light the relevance of choosing the appropriate hermeneutical method emerges in order to allow for a timely interpretation of the apostolic kerygma. In its constant dialogue with the surrounding intellectual and cultural reality, and the various hermeneutical methods, it is necessary for Orthodox theology to develop in close relation with the reality of modern humans. In its apostolic kerygma it needs to develop acquiring adequate language and methods, for instance the analytical or phenomenological language, and the historical-critical method. In this way it would be possible for Orthodox theology to offer a soteriological meaning to the current demands of the post-modern world. Most importantly, it should not be forgotten that the Orthodox Church and its critical voice, i.e. theology, can only be understood as being in via. Thus, it is necessary that self-referentiality and self-containedness are avoided, as well as the sufficiency of a technical theological language and its close ties with pre-modern cultural and philosophical models of life which is in clear contradistinction to the patristic ethos itself. If theology does not engage with the current reality, any hermeneutical endeavour contradicts both the soteriological perspective of God’s Word, and the timely existential needs of humanity.
It is in this spirit that the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, abiding in the tradition of critical reflection on timely theological topics, organizes its activities for the current academic year 2016-2017. A series of events, lectures, book presentations, meetings and conferences is organized in cooperation with other Orthodox and ecumenical bodies, institutes and seminaries.
To download the full program, click here.