God, Hierarchy, and Power: Orthodox Theologies of Authority from Byzantium

God, Hierarchy, and Power: Orthodox Theologies of Authority from Byzantium

God, Hierarchy, and Power: Orthodox Theologies of Authority from Byzantium

God, Hierarchy, and Power: Orthodox Theologies of Authority from Byzantium

Synopsis

In the current age where democratic and egalitarian ideals have preeminence, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, among other hierarchically organized religious traditions, faces the challenging questions: "Why is hierarchy maintained as the model of organizing the church, and what are the theological justifications for its persistence?" These questions are especially significant for historically and contemporarily understanding how Orthodox Christians negotiate their spiritual ideals with the challenges of their social and ecclesiastical realities.

To critically address these questions, this book offers four case studies of historically disparate Byzantine theologians from the sixth to the fourteenth-centuries--Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, Niketas Stethatos, and Nicholas Cabasilas--who significantly reflect on the relationship between spiritual authority, power, and hierarchy in theoretical, liturgical, and practical contexts. Although Dionysius the Areopagite has been the subject of much scholarly interest in recent years, the applied theological legacy of his development of "hierarchy" in the Christian East has not before been explored.

Relying on a common Dionysian heritage, these Byzantine authors are brought into a common dialogue to reveal a tradition of constructing authentic ecclesiastical hierarchy as foremost that which communicates divinity.

Excerpt

Eastern Orthodox Christianity from antiquity to the present is hierarchical. Orthodoxy has a fundamental ecclesiastical orientation toward hierarchy both in its administration and its sacramentality. the hierarchical model of stratified ecclesiastical ranks, orders, and offices is present in the earliest accounts of Christianity and develops expansively throughout the Byzantine period. From its liturgical and sacramental orientations to its patriarchal and ascetic organizations, the spiritual life of Orthodox Christians—both past and present—is powerfully shaped by historical and theological traditions of ecclesiastical hierarchy. What hierarchy is, how it is situated theologically, and why it persists, however, remain without clear consensus among both practitioners and scholars. Generally, when hierarchy is questioned in modern Orthodox theology, the seemingly vague concept of “tradition” is invoked to justify the order, exclusivity, ceremony, and authority of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (particularly in its ordained ranks), without clearly articulating why the tradition of the past needs to be maintained. This is particularly problematic when it appears that some aspects of hierarchy contradict the values of universality and equality many Orthodox Christianbrks">For some, the term “hierarchy” has developed a negative association. It is often used to refer to stratified organizational structures based on subordination of the many to a superior few, and is associated with easily abused power dynamics within those structures. For this reason, some scholars of Christianity reject the term, saying it is no longer reflective of an authentic Christian ideal. Others argue hierarchy was never a good . . .

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