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First Words on Theologoumena

April 8, 2007

“You do and you’ll clean it up!”

A coherent-sounding blogger[1] named Tom provides this definition

The definition of this word ‘theologoumena’ is from the Greek and Latin meaning “to speak of God.” The term usually refers to the historicization of theological statements derived from speculation on divine things and logical inferences from revelation rather than based on historical evidence. For example, the genealogy of Jesus and his virgin birth are classified by some as theologoumena derived from beliefs that Jesus was the son of David and the Son of God. (Patzia, A. G., & Petrotta, A. J. (2002). Pocket dictionary of biblical studies (116). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.)[2]

Or, as some would say, “baggage.”

The Archbishop (Orthodox) of Etna, Chrysostomos, in an article[3] on an Orthodox Christian response to a World Council of Churches paper, in passing defines theologoumena as

“privately-held, though possibly accurate, views held by some Fathers.”

Chrysostomos goes on to say that the concept of a firm line between dogma and theologoumena is a Western one, and that the Orthodox approach ought to be

“a thorough, careful search of the Fathers and to an existential immersion into their spirits—to something that ultimately rises above the useful tools of research that we have borrowed largely from Western theological schemata.”

This is apparently done in the context of full participation in the continuity of Orthodox life, bound together by baptism, the eucharist, and the priesthood, which

“constitutes a breeding ground for spiritual transformation and for development of that discretion by which a Father can, in one instance, honor the intent and quality of a non-Orthodox sacrament (discerning, as it were, the closeness of its relative truth to the criterion of truth within Orthodoxy), and in another reject such a sacrament.”

I understand this to mean that participation in the Orthodox community through participation in its sacraments, forms or sharpens a way of knowing which those outside the Orthodox community lack. I believe that idea of “other ways of knowing” is an important one when it comes to spirituality.

Chrysostomos has a lot more to say, but not much about theologoumena.

My next stop will be blogger Tom, whose full name is Tom Price[4]. I think he’s coming from a completely different direction, and that may be useful.

[1] Understanding the word “blogger” is left to you as part of your cyberspace immigrant-assimilation course

[2] http://abetterhope.blogspot.com/2007/03/what-is-true-christian-faith.html

[3] http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/bemandos.aspx

[4] http://www.tompriceapologetics.blogspot.com