Book Review – Charles Miller, The Gift of the World. An Introduction to the Theology of Dumitru Staniloae


Charles Miller, The Gift of the World

Staniloae in Contemporary Scholarship

Dumitru Staniloae (1903–1993) is almost unanimously recognised as the greatest Romanian theologian of all times. Moreover, Olivier Clément and Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia have acclaimed Staniloae to be ‘certainly the greatest Orthodox theologian’ of the present time[1], while Moltmann describes him as “the most influential and creative contemporary Orthodox theologian”[2]. Finally, Rowan Williams suggests that Staniloae is ‘a major interpreter of the patristic tradition… as well as a constructive theologian of great stature’.[3]

In the centre of Staniloae’s theology stands a trilogy including the Orthodox Dogmatic Theology,[4] the Mystical Theology,[5] and the Liturgical Theology.[6] Of these, Staniloae’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology is by far the most important, evidenced in being the first (and until now the only) book that has been translated in more than one language (entirely in German,[7] and partly in Greek, Serbian, French[8] and English[9]).

Staniloae’s three-volume opus entitled Orthodox Dogmatic Theology is divided into a Prolegomena and six main parts. The Prolegomena discusses revelation, natural and supernatural, and the relation between Scripture, Tradition, and the Church.

The first main section of the book deals with theology proper, discussing three ways of knowing God (cataphatic, apophatic and experiential), the Being and attributes of God, and the Holy Trinity, that Staniloae describes as ‘the structure of supreme love’[10].

The next section is concerned with the theology of creation, discussing the creation of the seen and of the unseen world, the Fall, and the doctrine of God’s Providence.

The third part contains Christology, discussing the Person of Christ and His three offices (as Prophet, High Priest, and King).[11]

The fourth section of Staniloae’s work is entitled ‘the subsequent unfolding of the saving work of Christ’, and deals with the doctrine of the Church and the personal appropriation of salvation in the Church, through the work of the Holy Spirit and human co-operation.[12]

The fifth part deals extensively with the Holy Sacraments, discussing first Sacraments in general and then each of the seven Sacraments in particular.

The final section of the book deals with eschatology, discussing particular and general (‘universal’) eschatology.

With very few exceptions,[13] most assessments of Staniloae’s contribution to theology tend to be unreservedly enthusiastic, falling under the general category of eulogia, although not all agree with the positive evaluations of Staniloae’s work. The Romanian ecumenist Ion Bria alludes to some of Staniloae’s detractors, when he writes: ‘The Faculty of Theology in Bucharest seems to be willing to take advantage of the fall of communism in order to minimise any reference to Fr. Staniloae’s Dogmatics, and to denigrate the theologians in his “school”’[14]. Moreover, seemingly negative reaction to Staniloae’s staunch conservatism and nationalism, a leading Romanian Orthodox intellectual, Horia-Roman Patapievici, expresses serious doubt concerning Staniloae’s originality.[15] Nevertheless, such negative reactions represent the exception rather than the norm.

In spite of the attention attracted and the lip service received, until recently no comprehensive critical analysis of the whole of Staniloae’s theology has been produced, either in Romanian, or in English. It is in fact surprising to observe how relatively little has been done in Romanian Orthodox circles in order to assimilate critically the work of Staniloae.[16] At present, it appears that the most serious research on Staniloae is undertaken by Catholics[17] and Romanian Evangelicals[18] rather than by Orthodox theologians. This being said, we may conclude that the time has come for a more in-depth evaluation of the contribution that Fr. Dumitru Staniloae has made to the theological treasury of the Church during the twentieth century. This is exactly what seems to be happening at the present time, as will be illustrated in the rest of this article.

Find below  PDF version of the antire review.

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[1] Kallistos of Diokleia, Foreword, in D. Staniloae. The Experience of God. tr. Ioan Ionita & Robert Barringer. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross, 1994, p. ix,. Olivier Clément concurs with Bishop Kallistos, when he writes: “Le Père Dumitru Stăniloae est certainement aujourd’hui le plus grand théologien orthodoxe. A mesure qu’elle sera traduite dans les langues occidentales, son oeuvre s’affirmera comme une des créations majeurs de la pensée chrétiene dans la seconde moitié de notre siècle.” – O. Clément. ‘Le Père Dumitru Stăniloae et le génie de l’orthodoxie Roumaine’, in Ioan I. Ica. (ed.), Persoana si comuniune [Person and Communion]. Sibiu: Editura Arhiepiscopiei ortodoxe, 1993. 82.

[2] J. Moltmann, ‘Geleitwort’, in D. Staniloae. Orthodoxe Dogmatik. vol. 1. Zürich: Einsiedeln and Köln: Benzinger Verlag, 1985. 10.

[3] R. Williams. ‘Eastern Orthodox Theology’. In David F. Ford. The Modern Theologians. Oxford: Blackwell, 19972. p. 511.

[4] Published as, D. Staniloae. Teologia dogmatica ortodoxa [Orthodox Dogmatic Theology]. 3 vols. Bucharest: EIBMBOR. 1978.

[5] Published as, D. Staniloae. Spiritualitatea ortodoxa [Orthodox Spirituality]. Bucharest: EIBMBOR. 1981.

[6] Published as, D. Staniloae. Spiritualitate si comuniune în liturghia ortodoxa [Spirituality and Communion in the Orthodox Liturgy]. Craiova: Editura Mitropoliei Olteniei, 1986.

[7] D. Staniloae. Orthodoxe Dogmatik. 3 vols. tr. Hermann Pitters. Köln: Benzinger Verlag, 1985, 1990, 1993.

[8] D. Staniloae. Le génie de l’Orthodoxie. tr. Dan Ilie Ciobotea. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1985.

[9] Staniloae. The Experience of God. In the Forward, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia describes this book as ‘the first major work of Orthodox dogmatic theology to appear in the English language’ (p. ix).

[10] The introduction and the first two sections were published in English under the title The Experience of God (see note 1), as the first two of six planned volumes containing the translation of Staniloae’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. The translation work was completed a few years ago, but unfortunately, its further publication encounters to this day a series of insurmountable financial difficulties.

[11] As Louth rightly points out, Staniloae declares that this theme is patristic, although not giving any references. However, as Louth declares, ‘it was only with Calvin’s Institutes that the notion of Christ’s threefold office assumed the structural significance with which he [Staniloae] invests it’ (A. Louth. ‘Review Essay: The Orthodox Dogmatic Theology of Dumitru Staniloae. Modern Theology. 13, 2, 1997. p. 259).

[12] The actual place that Staniloae gives to ecclesiology in his Dogmatics – between the objective work of Christ and its subjective (personal) appropriation by the believer and the theology of sacraments – is significant for the important role that Staniloae gives to the Church (and the Sacraments) in the process of salvation.

[13] One remarkable example is Louth’s concise but very thorough review essay mentioned above.

[14] I. Bria. Spatiul nemuririi sau eternizarea umanului in Dumnezeu [The Space of Immortality or the Eternalisation of the Human in God]. Iasi: Trinitas, 1994. p. 43. In the Preface of the doctoral work on Staniloae done by The Mosoiu, that he supervised (see note 15), Bria complains that the appropriation of Staniloae’s theological methodology and of his particular themes ‘is sporadic and most often nonexistent’ (p. 8). Mosoiu himself mentions in the introduction of his work (pp. 16-17) the opinions of a Romanian Orthodox theologian who writes derogatory of Staniloae and other neo-patristic authors as, producers of ‘personal and subjective dogmatics, claiming [undeserved] originality’ (P. Rezus. Teologia ortodoxa contemporana [Contemporary Orthodox Theology]. Timisoara: Editura Mitropoliei Banatului, 1989. p. 642.

[15] Patapievici writes: ‘Dumitru Staniloae was an erudite priest, able to reiterate well the tradition, but, in my opinion, a creative theologian he was not’ – H.-R. Patapievici. Politice [Political stuff]. Bucuresti: Humanitas, 19972. p.225. It is important to mention at this point that the author, a strong advocate of political and philosophical liberalism, is at the same time very conservative in terms of his Christian convictions.

[16] The first doctoral research on Staniloae by a Romanian Orthodox theologian was that of Ioachim Giosanu (La Déification de l’Homme d’après la Pensée du Père Dumitru Staniloae. unpublished Ph.D thesis. Paris: St. Sergius Institute of Orthodox Theology, 1994.) The author himself qualifies his work as being ‘mystical-dogmatic’ (Avant-propos). The discussion begins with a presentation of asceticism and Christian mysticism, as context of Orthodox spirituality. The second section deals with illumination of the person whose life was purified through ascetic practices. The final section of the thesis is a general introduction in Staniloae’s doctrine of theosis.

[17] Elias O’Brian, a Catholic, was the first Westerner to undertake research work on Staniloae (The Orthodox Pneumatic Ecclesiology of Father Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Approach. M.Phil. dissertation. Dublin: Trinity College, 1984). The first Ph.D thesis on Staniloae was produced by the Catholic Ronald Roberson (Contemporary Romanian Orthodox Ecclesiology. The Contribution of Dumitru Staniloae and Younger Colleagues. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientale, 1988). Roberson presents a very informed overview of the present day debates in Romanian Orthodox ecclesiology, and responds graciously to a number of contentious ecclesiological issues between the Orthodox and the Catholic traditions.

[18] Besides Emil Bartos and Silviu Rogobete, whose work will be analysed further on, there are at least three other Romanian Evangelicals who are undertaking research on various aspects of Staniloae’s theology.

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Book review Charles Miller on Staniloae

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Published by DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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