Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology

Georges Vasilyevich Florovsky (1893-1979)

Table of Contents
1. Background
2. Works (Selected List)
3. Themes
4. Outline of Major Works
5. Relation to Other Thinkers
6. Bibliography and Works Cited
7. Internet Resources
8. Related Topics

1. Background

Born August 28, 1893 in Odessa. Died August 11, 1979 in Princeton, New Jersey. Between those years he was an orthodox theologian, historian of Christian thought, interpreter of Russian literature, and ecumenical leader.

His father, Vasilii Antonovich Florovsky, was rector of the Theological Academy and dean of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. His mother, Klavdia Georgievna Popruzhenko, was the daughter of a professor of Greek and Hebrew. Georges' intellectual development began quite early since he was surrounded by adults who were professional academics. In 1911 Georges completed his studies at gymnasium at the age of 17 and began studies at the University of Odessa, where he majored in philosophy, yet he also developed a firm historical foundation. In 1920 his family left Russia and settled in Sophia, Bulgaria. In 1921 he was invited to Prague by the President of Czechoslovakia to teach philosophy of law.

In 1922 Georges married Xenia Ivanovna Simonova and resettled in Paris where he co-founded St. Sergius Theological Institute and taught patristics (1926-1948). In 1932 he was ordained a priest under the patriarch of Constantinople.

In 1948 he came to the United States and was professor of theology at St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary from 1948-1955. He became dean in 1950. He was professor of Eastern Church History at Harvard Divinity School from 1954 to 1965. He taught as an associate of the Slavic Department from 1962 to 1965, and as an associate at Holy Cross Theological School from 1955-1959.

He taught at Princeton University in Slavic Studies from 1965 to 1972. The fall semester 1978/79 was his last teaching responsibility.

2. Works (Selected List)

[Forthcoming]

3. Themes

Neo-Patristic Synthesis

For Florovsky the Fathers of the Church inherited a view of the Old Testament that was different than that of the New Testament writers. The Greek outlook is evident in the Septuagint especially. Scripture was expressed in Greek categories. He called the result "sacred Hellenism," but a Hellenism that opposed all forms of gnosticism.

Florovsky became interested in developing a meta-historical judgment of humanity. Underlying this was a view of creation that was at the same time seen as historically contingent, and allowed for the liberation of humanity from all kinds of determinism (whether predestinarian or dialectical). History is not a linear development, but rather a succession of unpredictable creativity. History is chaotic, but open. Between this creative contingency and forward looking judicial eschaton is the Christ as Person, Truth and Head of the Body. This is what Florovsky calls the "neo-patristic synthesis." To explicate this further Florovsky analyzes the Fathers from the 4th to the 8th centuries. Christian Hellenism is the age of completed patristic synthesis, which is fully based on Scripture. It is interesting that out of his belief that the Orthodox tradition most faithfully preserves the Christian tradition, he develops an "ecumenism in time." We will discuss his concern for "ecumenism" later, but for now we simply notice that he opposes the "ecumenism in space" of the relativistic Protestant denominations. Florovsky's goal is a renewal of the "perfected Christian Hellenism."

Florovsky emphasizes Christ over Trinity. For him Christ as a divine person is the one to whom humanity is related personally. His focus on the individual personality in connection with a personal connection with Christ is a natural outgrowth of his view of history and his philosophy of human freedom. It also affects his soteriology in that he places a great deal of weight on the individual working out salvation as opposed to any form of ineluctable divine election and reprobation. He does focus on what he calls "ascetic achievement" as a way of becoming ethically free from nature.

At this point I would like to summarize three significant points that George Williams makes concerning the view of Florovsky (Blane, 295-329). First, Florovsky's view of human freedom and grace are firmly embedded in a doctrine of creation (as we have already seen) and a closely linked eschatology. His key term for human freedom in relation to spiritual experience is "ascetic achievement." Freedom is a combination of faith, love, grace, decision, and strenuousness. Second, his view of atonement and salvation reflects his view of theosis. Florovsky takes a mediating position between what he calls "anthropological maximalism" and "anthroplogical minimalism," both to be avoided. His own view balances divine grace and human freedom. He saw the atonement within a large frame, namely consummation of creation. This gave him a perspective to deal with original sin, in that Christ's atonement would have occurred to consummate creation (with the connotation of perfection) even if Adam had not fallen. In light of this, to belong to Christ (spiritual regeneration) is to presume that in human freedom one chooses the proffered way of suffering obedience in love, or the gradual process of theosis, or becoming divine, which is carried out within the sacramental life of the church. Third, the Church is the sphere in which the Christian's effort in the world is related as the Kingdom of Christ. Every "ascetic achievement" is relevant and a part of the working of the kingdom.

Ecumenism

Georges Florovsky wrote much on the topic of ecumenism. In his collected works there are two volumes, which are essentially collections of his essays, dedicated to the issue of ecumenism. Volume one covers doctrinal matters and volume two historical. He looks especially, historically, to the early period of the church as the "undivided church" before the canonical split.

Florovsky looks for no dogmatic minimalism in ecumenism, but seriously investigates what situation must arise to allow the unification of Christ's church. He asks the doctrinal questions of the definition of the church, and struggles with the relations between Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant theology, ecclesiology and history. His concerns for ecumenism led him to membership in the World Council of Churches. Yet, he does so with fierce realism. He writes, "There is an 'ecumenical' problem precisely because Christendom is divided, and Christians are not in agreement with each other." Even though there is membership in the World Council of Churches he writes of the alliance, "...it is an uneasy fellowship. Paradoxically enough, this common allegiance to Christ does not actually unite the 'divided Christians.' After all, they are still 'divided'; and the strain of the division is quite real." It is this realization and his search for unity that characterize Florovsky's approach to ecumenism.

4. Outline of Major Works

[Forthcoming]

5. Relation to Other Thinkers

[Forthcoming]

6. Bibliography and Cited Works

Blane, Andrew. ed. 1993. Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Haugh, Richard S. ed. 1989. The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky. 14 Volumes. Vaduz, Europe: Academic Books.

7. Internet Resources

[Forthcoming]

8. Related Topics

 The Russian Orthodox Church to the Nineteenth Century

 

Edited by Derek Michaud, incorporating material by Phil LaFountain (1999).

 

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