A discussion with The Revd Dr Christopher Knight, an Orthodox theologian with a background in astrophysics, currently affiliated with the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge UK. He also is a Fellow of the International Society for Science and Religion, an organisation whose Executive Secretary he was for many years. Father Chris is a prolific writer and, by all accounts, the foremost Orthodox Christian expert in matters of theology and science.
The discussion focused on Father Chris’ concept of “tradition seeking understanding” as a contemporary form of mining patristic wisdom, the broader context of Orthodox interactions with modern and contemporary culture, and the concept of nature in the light of scientific and theological appraisals.
The concept of “tradition seeking understanding” is particularly interesting, challenging the contemporary traditionalism of certain Orthodox milieus. For Father Chris, the church’s tradition is not a repository of information, the summary of old traditions; it is a living current that has its source in the wisdom of the early Christian generations, but whose spearhead, as it were, points towards our own time. In this sense, the tradition is not only a matter of remembering. Instead, it is a matter of learning lessons, the wisdom of past accomplishments, for the purposes of applying it to contemporary circumstances.
So perceived, to grasp the wisdom of the tradition requires discernment, so that we can identify the theological intuitions of the church fathers and disentangle them from the outdated information by the means of which they have been communicated. In turn, by appropriating the “mind of the fathers,” we are enabled to apply the same kind of theological intuition to the parameters of contemporary culture, including the scientific culture. For Father Chris, this is not merely a possibility, instead representing the traditional way par excellence for achieving the missional mandate of the church to preach the Gospel to all nations.
But this undertaking is no easy task. In order to replicate the lessons of the early Christian and the medieval fathers within our own circumstances, we need to be aware of both the original context where they developed their ideas, as well as the ideas of our time. In the process of doing so, we learn more about the tradition than when we attempt to isolate ourselves from the world in the ivory tower of traditionalism. In exchange, we become contributors to contemporary culture, Christian and otherwise. Father Chris evoked the example of the Russian émigrés to France and Belgium, who have engaged great Catholic theologians of the twentieth century, contributing to a renewal of their thinking on patristic grounds. He also pointed out the significance of the nuanced Orthodox understanding of nature, as continuously open to the divine permeating activity, as a contribution to the emergence of richer perceptions of reality. These modern achievements prove that the lessons of the patristic tradition are still applicable today, well, when the tradition is properly understood, in patristic fashion.
Here is the video recording of this conversation:
22 February 2022 © AIOCS
Read about the second conversation here.
The whole AIOCS Conversations series
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