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Georges Florovsky, The Eastern Fathers of the 4th century

Georges Florovsky, The Eastern Fathers of the 4th century, Pournaras, Thessaloniki, 2006.

Undoubtedly, the fourth century was a watershed for a new era in the life of the Church and the development of its Theology. Caesar was baptised and in this gesture, the empire accepted Christianity. The period of bloody persecutions came to an end and a new breeze of development and progress swept the Church, in parallel with the storms of secular providence, which began to threaten it with the prospect of early secularisation. The introduction of constantly increasing numbers of believers, accelerated by enthusiasm, as well as the unavoidable osmoses with the Greek world and its culture, were the moving forces for heretic forgeries as well as for the development of Christian Theology.

Professor Florovsky examines the above dogmatic tendencies in the first part of his patristic tetralogy, devoted to the eastern fathers of the fourth century. The great doctrinal problems had been incubating even as early as the Alexandrian school and the monarchic trends. The Origenic subordinatio and the teaching of Lucian enforced the Arian thought, which propagated widely and quickly. The main concern of the theology of the fourth century was to face Arianism.

Fr. Georges presents the persons who expressed this theology -the most eminent and imposing figures of the Christian Church and theology, as well as their theological contribution. Athanasios the Great, Cyrill of Jerusalem, Vasilios the Great, the two Gregories (the Theologian and of Nyssa), the Blind Twin, Amphilochios of Iconium, Epiphanios of Cyprus, John Chrysostom etc. constitute the main chapters of this paper.

The emphasis on the same essence of Father and Son, the impossibility of searching for God in intellectual terms, the apophatism of His essence, the image of God for man and the teaching on human existence as an “in-between” stage, the introduction of the distinction between God’s essence and actions, the fullness and integrity of Christ’s human nature in the frames of anti-apollinarian teaching, are only some of the top issues, addressed by the fourth century Fathers, which have indelibly stigmatized the physiognomy of Christian theology. However, that part of their contribution considered unsurpassable not only in the history of Christian thought, but also in the history of philosophy and ideas, is the distinction between God’s essence and hypostasis. The Aristotelic point of departure constitutes just a semantic device of a fore-printing, an inspired and creative teaching, which expressed, in Holy Spirit, the quintessence of Christian faith, while dealing with heretics effectively.

In the pages of this book the author, who discusses in an eloquent and easily understood way some colossal issues of the Christian thought, often in contrast and disagreement with ancient Greek philosophy, pleasantly surprises the reader. Fr. Florovsky with this book as well as with the whole of his patristic tetralogy, has succeeded in imparting highly doctrinal theology outside the narrow academic context.


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