Doxology, the Language of
Professor Constantine Scouteris
For a number of years great emphasis has
been placed on the issue of theology. Its nature, task, method, and
language have been a matter of study, explanation, investigation, and
exploration by a great number of scholars, both Orthodox and those of
other Christian traditions.1
Although this can be
viewed as positive from one vantage point, from another it reveals that,
at the present time, theology is often in a condition of crisis and, to
a certain extent, confusion. Our contemporary theologizing is quite
often characterized either by a sense of self-sufficiency or artificial
openness, the former manifesting itself in a mere repetition, a sort of
conservative attachment to the past, the latter taking the form of a
kind of modern, abstract, religious speculation. No sensitive observer
will deny that in our theological scene there often exists a gulf
between the so-called "academic" theological community and the
ecclesiastical pastoral concerns of those responsible for the spiritual
welfare of the people of God. Theological work and pastoral
responsibility are very often scandalously treated as two different
It is certainly not my
desire to be either skeptical or negative at such a gathering as the
Third International Conference of Orthodox Theological Schools. However,
it seems to me essential that reality be faced in order not to build
castles in the sky. In order that our investigation be honest, clear,
and constructive, it is of paramount importance to realize where we
stand and what we represent.
The initial question
concerning the theme for discussion should be posed as follows: What is
the significance of "doxology, the language of Orthodoxy," in
our modern age? What does doxology mean in our contemporary reality? The
point being, do we have a clear enough vision to understand what
doxological theology is in an era when our minds have been, to a great
extent, obscured and our theological and ecclesiastical consciences to
often secularized or confused? The question demands an answer in terms
of serenity, sincerity, frankness, and clarity.
From the patristic point of view,
"doxology" is the essence of Christian life. Our subject,
therefore, becomes vital and essential, demanding careful consideration
and full attention. We are not discussing a matter for pure
contemplation, a philosophical problem. Nor are we discussing a question
of dialectic, not even a simple way of theologizing. We are, rather,
discussing a reality directly connected with faith, love, and communion
with him, from whom "every good endowment and every perfect
gift" (Jas 1.17) flow.2 When we
speak of doxology, we are obliged to touch upon the heart, the very
being, of Christian understanding and of Christian life itself. Indeed,
when we speak of "doxology," we stand very much at the center
of Orthodox theology.
Before proceeding to a discussion
of the subject at hand, it would be appropriate to examine the terms
"doxology," "theology," and "orthodoxy."
In fact, the meaning of these three terms, in the writings of the Greek
Fathers, interpenetrate one another and the terms are often used
interchangeably. Doxology is "the word (λόγος) about
glory." But glory, in the final analysis, is God himself; the
"unmoved glory" (η ακίνητος δόξα), in the words
of Saint John Chrysostom.3
God is the absolute glory, glory
and perfection itself ("αυτοδεδοξασμένος και
αυτοτέλειος"), according to Saint Epiphanios.4
In this sense, the terms doxology
and theology describe the same reality. Doxology is the λόγος
about glory (i.e. about God). Doxology and theology are, therefore,
identical. This identification was fully expressed by Origen when
speaking of prayer. Thus, commenting on Matthew 6.7, he exhorts
Christians not to "use vain repetitions," but to theologize,
i.e., to ascribe glory to Gods.5
Moreover, it is well known that
this is not the only instance where Origen uses the term
"theologize" to indicate the glorification of God. In several
of his writings, both the terms theology and doxology are used
interchangeably and as equivalents.6
From Origen on, especially in the
so-called ascetical tradition, identification of theology and doxology
become more self conscious and obvious. The well-known words of Evagrios
constitute a summary, "If you are a theologian, you will pray in
truth; and if you pray in truth, you are a theologian."7
On the other hand, the
term "orthodoxy" indicates not merely right opinion or belief
as opposed to heresy, but also right glorification; more accurately,
right glorification encompassing right belief and a right way of
expressing it. Thus, right doxology or, simply, doxology is a more
comprehensive definition than right belief.
We may add in this connection that,
according to Orthodox understanding, doctrinal tradition is not
exclusively an intellectual system. Rather, it is inextricably bound
together with liturgical action. It is within the worshiping community,
and in light of the community's liturgical life that doctrine becomes
"a field of vision where in all things on earth are seen in their
relation to the things of heaven."8
In this respect, the lex
orandi becomes the focus of the lex credendi, of the lex
cognoscendi, and of the lex vivendi. Dogmas, in other words,
are not abstract speculations in and of themselves. Likewise, Christian
life is not moralistic and external behavior based on regulations and
laws. Both doctrine and the Christian way of life are understood within
the liturgical context. Within the worshiping community, doctrine
becomes that action which constitutes the highest point of the Christian
way. Thus, the Orthodox approach both to doctrine and the Christian life
is fundamentally a liturgical one.
For an Orthodox, it is self-evident
that theology, as God's doxology, has not the characteristics of an
individual, monistic dialogue between the theologizing person and God;
but, although personhood remains its locus, it is an ecclesial offering.
The theologizing person apprehends, in his theology, the mind of the
ecclesial body and offers it to God; his own from his own, in a unique
and personal way. I believe that it is this ecclesial conscience of
theology that we express in our Liturgy when, immediately before our
confession of common faith in the triune God, the Creed, we urge:
"Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."9
The one and only rock upon which theology as a doxological event can be
based is the ecclesiastical body. It is within the Church, this
continued Pentecost, that our mind, which is very often deprived of any
orientation toward God, can be reoriented toward him, and, indeed, be
illuminated and transformed into a theological mind. Moreover, it is
only within ecclesial reality that the transfiguration of the human
person can be accomplished. The Church herself is not a secular
community, but "the tabernacle of God," which, in spite of the
fact that she is here and now, transcends time and space and belongs to
the "age to come"; the point being, that the ecclesial
community is "gathered together" by the Holy Spirit. It is the
"other Paraclete," he who maintains the ecclesial oneness, who
thus secures solid ground for a genuine theological offering. It is he
who transforms, within the Church, simple human persons into
"theologians."10 It is he
only "by whom we cry out, Abba, Father" (Rom 8.15). In fact,
when we speak of doxology we mean an action of the Spirit, "for we
do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself
makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered"
The Question of Language
Theology as doxology,
prayer, and orthodoxy of necessity employs the medium of language. In
fact, it is an act carried out by language. When we speak of language in
this context, we do not necessarily restrict it to the narrow limits of
the created and spoken word. Expressed words do, indeed, represent part
of theological language, but not its totality, and certainly not its
highest part. I would venture to say that expressed words correspond to
a minimum of theological language, which, in its essential part,
transcends words and expressions.
My intention here is not to
introduce a sharp distinction between the expressed and
"inexpressible" word. On the contrary, I intend to underline
the fact that language, both as an expression of divine truths (προφορικός
λόγος), as well as an inward, immanent event (ενδιάθετος
λόγος) is a unique reality and constitutes an essential element
The fact that there exists an
inexpressible theological language has already been recognized by the
well-known philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein
speaks specifically of the peculiarity of religious language. In his Tractatus
logicophilosophicus Wittgenstein recognizes that there are truths of
religion which "cannot be put into words" (Unaussprechliches).
For such truths we must remain silent. Silence here means that for
religion and ethics we cannot always use "propositions" as we
do for the natural sciences. From this perspective, religious language
is to a great extent a distortion of language. Yet it is precisely
through this distortion that religious truths become evident.11
In spite of the fact that
in Wittgenstein's approach there is room to express through language
what is known as mystical experience, there is still a substantial
difference between his philosophy of language and its biblical,
patristic understanding. Besides, by Wittgenstein's inability to explain
how the mystical can be made evident, we observe that his entire system
is based on an absolutely anthropocentric structure. The experience of
God and the word about him are exclusively based on man and confined
within the boundaries of human possibilities. In his theory of language
there is absolutely no room for an experience which transcends human
effort and ability; an experience such as that of Saint Paul who
"was caught up to the third heaven . . . and heard inexpressible
words" (2 Cor 12.2-4).
Wittgenstein can easily accept a
language of faith, or even a religious language, that expresses
something transcending all human learning which is carried out by
language; but in his philosophy there is no place for language which is
given to men as grace.12 The
fundamental truth pointed out by Paul that, "the Spirit himself
makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,"
remains something absolutely foreign, paradoxical, and even scandalous
to human understanding.
In order to reach a better
understanding of what language represents, from a biblical and patristic
point of view, it is, I think, necessary to explain this issue further.
According to Orthodox understanding, all processes concerning the
communication of divine truths are closely interwoven. Speech,
contemplation, and even com-munion with God through mystical experience
constitute an indivisible unity. This unity is summarized, to a great
extent, in the term "logos" (word). This term, a Greek term
par excellence, is multi-sensed. As an expressed word, both oral and
written, it can be viewed as a composition of words and phrases which
become the means whereby men understand one another. On the theological
level, the expressed word is the way of transmitting transmitable divine
truths which can be transmitted by created words. For logos as inward,
immanent power is understood as contemplation. Logos as contemplation
about God excels logos as expression of him. Such has already been said
by Plato and repeated, in one way or another, by certain of the Greek
Fathers.13 The point being that
although it is hard to form an adequate concept of God, it is even
harder to express it. Thus, logos as contemplation has wider
possibilities than logos as expression, logos as truth excels both
contemplation and expression. Logos as truth is the Divine Logos, who
"became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as
of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn
Thus, the Greek term
"logos" was adopted by Saint John the Theologian and
thereafter by the entire Christian tradition to designate the Son, the
second person of the one and undivided Trinity, he who alone "knows
the Father" (Jn 10.15) and reveals him "to whom he wills"
(Mt 11.27). The incarnation of the eternal Logos of God has, therefore,
given new and unique perspective to theology. Through the self-emptying
of the divine Logos the eternal truth of God was transmitted to men and
expressed within the narrow limits of human language. The incarnate
Logos spoke to man about God in a human way (ανθρωπίνως).
He did so using words, images, parables, and concepts, in order that men
might be able to speak of God in a way worthy of Him (θεοπρεπώς).14
Origen comments that the Son of God
is called Logos because that which is rational, and indeed, endowed with
reason, is revealed in his person. He is called Logos because it is he
who has transformed our life, one devoid of reason (παν
άλογον ημών), into a new reality and made us truly
rational (κατά αλήθειαν λογικούς). Thus,
"whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, do all to the glory of
God" (1 Cor 10.31). In other words, through his incarnation the
Divine Logos gives us the possibility to be partakers of himself. As
such, partaking of the life of the divine Logos constitutes restoration
of our original reasonable life. Through participation in the life of
the Logos man's life assimilates into the life of God. In Christ man's
life becomes a risen life; his mind is elevated to the level of divine
rationality.15 This means that his mind
is delivered from every dissolution and disorientation. Moreover, as far
as he is a partaker of Christ, his theological language is not merely a
human word, but takes on all the strength of the divine Word.16
I should at this point, in order to
avoid any misunderstanding, make clear that theology as an ecclesial
function, in its doxological dimension, is not the exclusive province of
a certain elite enclave of specialists. On the contrary, it is an open
diakonia, a reality of catholic significance. Even though theology is
not limited to a certain minority of intellectuals, however, it is as
yet not one of the easiest things to do. Saint Gregory of Nyssa refers
to theology as a mountain which is not easy to reach.17
Saint Gregory the Theologian pays more attention to the preparation and
presuppositions of theology. I would like to address only one of these
points. In order to answer the question, "How can one
theologize?" Saint Gregory speaks of, among other things, inner
calmness (σχολή) and spiritual silence.18
Silence, as a necessary method leading to theology, was also explicitly
stressed by Saint Antony, the desert teacher. "In silence," he
says in his Texts of Saintly Life, "you use your mind, and
in using your mind you speak inwardly in yourself; for in silence mind
gives birth to word. And a grateful word offered to God is salvation to
We must admit that in our
theological environment we do not often refer to silence. Our
theological education overemphasizes the significance of the spoken or
written word. Public speaking and homiletics have become basic
theological courses in our faculties. Stressed by the mentality of the
societies in which we live, we continue to pay less attention to what
Saint Gregory calls σχολή, inward calmness and silence. I would say
that our theological education suffers from, what I would call, a
"Demosthenic" syndrome or a "Demosthenic" complex.
According to a certain biographical
tradition, Demosthenes, the greatest Athenian orator, as a young student
of rhetoric tried to overcome his stammering and thus obtain fluent
speech. He often went to the seaside where by facing the sea and placing
a few stones in his mouth, he practiced the art of speaking. Thus,
Demosthenes forced himself to become a rhetor. Athenian society, not
unlike our modern societies, could only accept "successful"
people. I have a feeling that we, too, train and force our students to
become "successful" preachers, orators, and teachers of
theology. Certainly, this is good from one point of view, but do we
really prepare them to appreciate silence? Do we clear for them the way
which leads to inner quietness and calm? In the Gerontikon we
read that, "It was said of Abba Agathon that for three years he
lived with a stone in his mouth until he had learn-ed to keep
silence."20 Demosthenes and
Agathon used the same method to attain diametrically different
achievements. What, in fact, differentiates Demosthenes from Agathon is
the aim of their askesis. The former intended to become an orator; the
latter had in view and earnestly desired, to learn to keep silence.
Glory and Glorification.
When we speak of silence,
we do not suppose a pathetic, individualistic, and static condition, a
kind of distortion of human personality. Silence is not a kind of
consequence of anthropophobia. Rather, it is manifested in a deeply
interior and spiritual quality. It is an existential, creative power, a
healing and redirection of the whole man toward divine life. Silence is
a profoundly Christian attitude, directly related to the divine kenosis.
If we carefully study biblical data related to the highest point of the
abasement of the Logos, his passion and cross, we realize that
Christ confronted his passion in absolute obedience and silence. In
response to the question of the high priest: "Do you answer
nothing? . . . Jesus kept silence and answered nothing" (Mt
14.60-61 and 26.62-63). Likewise, to the question of Pilate: "Do
you answer nothing? . . . Jesus still answered nothing" (Mk
15.4-5). Concerning his sacrifice on the cross, the pro-phecy of Isaiah
certainly offers the most striking summary: "he was oppressed and
he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to
the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he
opened not his mouth" (53.7).
I emphasize the issue of
silence because silence, not so much as a refusal to speak, but,
primarily, as an attitude and as inward behavior, is connected both to
the glory of the incarnate Logos as well as to the possibility
given to us to ascribe glory to God. In this respect we are confronted
with the fundamental Christian paradox: silence, as an expression of the
extreme self-emptying of the Word, and silence, as his glory, being
bound together. It is precisely this paradox which is considered by the
Jews a "scandal" and a "stumbling-block" (1 Cor
1.23). For the Jews, the idea itself of the Lord of glory silent and
crucified was not only unthinkable, but utter blasphemy. Moreover,
according to the wisdom of the Greeks, the idea of a God humiliated,
suffering in silence, and unable to succeed in showing his power, was
far beyond any imagining, a real foolishness. However, that which is
scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, is, in the final
count, "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1.24).
The fact to be clearly and
definitely stressed is that the untreated and eternal glory of God, his
power and wisdom, appeared to us through the abasement of God the Logos.
This is what Saint John has clearly shown in his Gospel: "The Word
became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as
of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth"
(1.14). Glory has been transmitted to human reality because God, in his
unique and ecstatic movement, has entered within the limitations of
human poverty. He freely condescended to the human level in order that
"we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of
the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to
glory" (2 Cor 3.18).
In the final analysis, the
fact that the eternal glory of God appeared on the scene of human
history, through the extreme humility of God the Logos, constitutes,
yet, the greatest paradox. For Greek society or our modern societies,
which strive after progress and suc-cess and the acquisition of human
glory and power, this is an indisputable contradiction; an open
distortion of any law of this world. We as Christians often lack the
inner capacity to understand that this contradiction and antinomy lead
to truth and the "glorious liberty of the children of God"
(Rom 8.21). Our sight is not clear enough to see things as they really
are rather than as they appear.
As a point of reminder,
regarding this connection, Orthodox iconography personifies but one icon
of Christ entitled "the King of Glory." This unique icon is
not an image of the Son of God in royalty and dominion, but rather, an
icon of Christ exhausted and suffering. In his silent form as a servant,
in extreme humility, lack-ing "beauty" and "form"
(Is 53.2), in his mystery of the cross, the enhypostasized wisdom,
glory, and power of God the Father revealed to us his glory, his
That which has been
mentioned above, concerning silence and humility, is immediately
applicable to the subject of doxology. Dox-ology is not vain verbalizing
or triumphal words; it is, rather, the language of those who have denied
themselves and lost their lives (Mt 16.24-25). Doxology is indeed the
language of those who have learned to keep silent. Thus, doxology is
immediately connected with the life in Christ. It is the consequence of
the life in Christ. In fact, doxology is the language of the saints and
of all those who follow in the path of humility and obedience. To
believe that there exists the possibility of putting forward a language
of doxology without holiness is like believing that it is possible to
put forward theology without God.
One has to be certain
that, when speaking of "doxology as the language of
Orthodoxy," Orthodox theologians, in fact, testify to their deep
desire and existential agony to maintain and deepen the ethos, spirit
and attitude of Orthodoxy. This, indeed, is our challenge and mission.
1. Among other studies
we mention the following: N. A. Nissiotis, "La Theologie en
tant que science et en tant que doxologie," Irenikon 23
(1960) 291; C. E. Papapetrou, The Essence of Theology (in
Greek) (Athens,1970); C. B. Scouteris, The Meaning of the Terms
"Theology," "to Theologize," and
"Theologian" in the Teaching of the Greek Fathers up to
and Including the Cappadocians (in Greek) (Athens, 1972k A.
Fermet and R. Marle, Theologies d'aujourd'hui. J. Robinson,
J. Ratzinger, H. Cox, H. Zahrnt, J. Moltman (Paris, 1973k and E. L.
Mascall, Theology and the Gospel of Christ. An Essay in
Reorientation (London, 1977). See also the collective work, R.
VanderGucht and H. Vorgrimler, eds., Bilan de la Theologie du XXe
siecle (Paris, 1970).
2. See also the
"prayer behind the Ambon" in the Liturgy of Saint John
3. Saint John
Chrysostom, Ερμηνεία εις την
προς Ρωμαίους Επιστολήν
3, 4; PG 60.413.
Epiphanios, Κατά αιρέσεων
69, 74 in Κ. Ηοll, ed., Die Griechischen
Christlichen Schriftsteller (GCS) ρ. 222,
14-15; PG 42.321D.
μη βαττολογήσωμεν αλλά θεολογήσωμεν,"
Origen, Περί Ευχής in Ρ. Koetschau, ed., Die
Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller
p. 345, 3-4; PG 14.480C.
6. See for
example: Origen, Εις τον
Ιερεμίαν Hom. 18 in Ε.
Klostermann, ed., Die Griechischen
Christlichen Schriftsteller p. 158, 9-15;
PG l3.176Α; Εις Ψαλμόν 67 in J.B.C Pitra, ed., Analecta
Sacra Spicilegio Solesmeni Parata Vol. 3 (Paris, 1883), ρ.8Ο; Εις
ΠαραμίαςΣολομώντος PG 13.24ΑΒ. For α
further discussion of Origen's understanding of theology and
doxology, see Scouteris, The Meaning of the Terms
"Theology," pp. 81-85.
7. Evagrios, Περί
Προσευχής PG 79.118ΟΒ. V.
Lossky referring to this passage of Evagrios reaches the conclusion
that: "theologie gnose de la Trinite et oraison soot synonymes
pour Evagre," Vision de Dieu (Neuchatel, 1969) p. 271.
8. G. Every, The
Byzantine Patriarchate (London, 1947) p.ix. Quoted in Τ. Ware, The
Orthodox Church (Harmondsworth, 1969) p.
9. The Liturgy of
Saint John Chrysostom.
10. This is explicitly
pointed out in a hymn of Pentecost: "The Holy Spirit provides
everything; He overflows with prophecy; He fulfills the priests and
has taught wisdom to the illiterate. He has elevated the fishermen
to theologians. He gathered together the entire institution of the
Church. 0 Comforter, consubstantial with the Father and the Son and
sharing the same throne, glory to Thee."
11. See: L.
Wittgenstein, "Tractatus logico-philosophicus." In Schrifften
1 (Frankfurt am Main, 1969), 6.42, 6.421, 6.45, 6.522. See also:
H. 0. Mounce, Wittgenstein's Tractatus. An Introduction
(Oxford, 1981) pp. 99-100. C. Boudouris, Wittgenstein's Theory of
Meaning in Greek (Athens, 1972) pp. 120-121.
12. This is a
point which occurs in the teaching of the Fathers. See, for example,
Didymus the Blind, Περί της
Αγίας Τριάδος 3, PG 39, 825A; Εις
Ψαλμούς PG 39, 1129A. Eusebios, Της
1, 20. In Klostermann, Die Griechischen Christlichea
Schriftsteller p. 96, ?-10; PG 24.892C.
13. Plato, Τίμεων
28c. See also Cyril of Alexandria, Ερμηνεία
εις το κατά Ιωάννην Ευαγγέλιον
14, 20 in P. E. Pusey, ed., p. 480. PG 74, 237A. Saint Gregory the
Theologian changes the above mentioned phrase as follows: "Θεόν
νοήσαι μεν χαλεπόν φράσε δε αδύνατον"
Λόγος 28 A J. Mason, ed., p. 26; PG 36.29C.
14. Papapetrou, The
Essence of Theology, ρ.44.
15. 0rigen, Εις
το κατά Ιωάννην 1, 37 in
Klostermann, Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller p.
47, 21-Ζ9; PG 14.96D. "Λόγος καλείται παν
άλογον ημών περιαιρών και κατά
αλήθειαν λογικούς κατασκευάζων,
πάντα εις δόξαν θεού πράττον-τας
μέχρι του εσθίειν και του πίνειν, εις
δόξαν θεού επιτελούντας δια τον
λόγον και τα κοινότερα και τα
τελειώτερα του βίου έργα. Ei γαρ
μετέχοντες αυτού ανιστάμεθα καί
φωτιζόμεθα, τάχα δε και ποιμαινόμεθα
ή βασιλευόμεθα, δήλον ότι και ενθέως
λογικοί γινόμεθα, τα εν ημίν άλογα
και την νεκρότητα αφανίζοντος αυτού,
καθ' ό Λόγος εστί και ανάστασις."
16. For a
further discussion, see: Scouteris The Meaning οf
the Terms "Theology." pp. 167ff.
γάρ εστι άναντες ως αληθώς και
δυσπρόσιτον η Θεολογία, ής μόλις o
πολύς λεώς την υπώρειαν φθάvει," Saint
Gregory of Nyssa, Περί του βίου του Μωυσέως,
Η. Musirillo, ed., ρ. 84, 21-22. PG 44.373D-76Α.
γαρ τω όντι σχολάσαι και γνώναι Θεόν
και όταν λάβωμεν καιρόν κρίνειν
θεολογίας ευθύτητα," Saint Gregory the
Theologian, Λόyος 27 3, Α.1. Mason, ed., ρ. 5, 6-8; PG 36.16Α.
19. Β. Ward,
trans., The Saγings of the Desert Fathers
(London, 1981) p. 22.
20. Ward, The Sayings
of the Desert Fathers, p. 22.